First came the plea, then the proposal, and now Hockey Canada hopes its members will accept what president Bob Nicholson has dubbed "zero tolerance" for head shots.
Nicholson made an impassioned speech Friday morning at Hockey Canada's annual general meeting, outlining the need for rule amendments to address any contact made with a player's head. More than 400 delegates from across the country listened to Nicholson's proposal before breaking into their councils for discussion.
If approved, changes would be made to existing checking-to-the-head rule 6.5. The new rules, which would have "more strength to them," Nicholson said, would take effect for the 2011-12 season and include:
- A two-minute penalty in minor and female hockey for any player "who accidentally contacts an opponent in the head, face or neck with their stick or any part of the player's body or equipment." A double minor for contacting a player in the head intentionally.
- In junior and senior hockey, a minor and a misconduct, or a major and a game misconduct, "at the discretion of the referee based on the degree of violence of impact, will be assessed to any player who checks an opponent to the head area in any manner. A major and a game misconduct penalty shall be assessed any player who injures an opponent under this rule."
- A match penalty will be "assessed to any player who deliberately attempts to injure or deliberately injures an opponent." (The rule changes for junior and senior hockey will be held a year while the Junior Pilot Project gathers more data on blows to the head and dangerous hits.)
The Nicholson pitch requires a motion coming from the Hockey Canada councils before it can be put to a membership vote this weekend. On Friday, the possible changes generated much talk at the general meeting and elsewhere in the hockey community. Nicholson said the feedback he'd received via phone calls and text messages had been supportive.
"It is exactly what I'd hoped for," Nicholson said. "I think this is a strong statement. We want people to know this is what we're doing this year but it's not the end. We have to continue to do all we can to make our game as safe as possible."
The news that the resolution could soon be adopted was met with approval in some circles.
"In my opinion, Bob Nicholson and Hockey Canada are taking an important step in the right direction.We all know that hockey is a physical and competitive game especially at the professional level.Hopefully these rules will be adopted by the nhl in the near future," said Sidney Crosby's agent Pat Brisson of CAA Sports.
Hockey Canada first implemented its checking-to-the-head rule in 2004-05 but has had to re-examine it given the increasing number of concussions occurring from on-ice contact. That has played a significant role in the two-year decline in minor hockey registration. In 2008-09, there were 584,679 kids playing hockey in Canada. That number now sits at roughly 569,000 and has caught Hockey Canada's attention.
"We've been working on this a long time, the debate over body checking versus body contact, the increase in information on head shots," Nicholson acknowledged. "We're looking for change next year and the year after that. We want to stay ahead of the curve when we get new data.
"Could coaches be suspended over head shots?" he added. "I think that's something we'll see in the near future."
Along with new head-contact rules, Hockey Canada is planning to put together and disseminate educational videos to better inform not just the players, but their coaches, parents and referees.
Hockey Canada's annual general meeting will also address the minor hockey recruitment and retention issue - how to attract and keep more kids in the game - along with how to better use technology to help coaches teach their players.