Hockey Canada is looking to adopt a zero-tolerance rule for hits to the head when it stages its annual general meeting in May.
The question, according to the governing body's president Bob Nicholson, is determining exactly what that means. What if a player is hit then hits his head off the glass or the ice? Is that still an infraction? It's destined to be a hot-button topic when Hockey Canada and representatives from its 13 associations meet in Calgary.
"The definition of hits to the head will come up," Nicholson acknowledged Tuesday. "Zero tolerance is two words, but it's how they're defined that can change how the game is called, certainly in minor hockey. That will be looked at because there's a need for us to be more strict than the NHL."
Nicholson has come out in favour of revising rules and enhancing player safety and noted how Hockey Canada continues to gather information from concussion symposiums in Canada and the U.S. (Hockey Canada has produced videos on bodychecking and included information on headshots but has yet to do one solely on hitting to the head.)
Nicholson has also talked about the culture that permeates the game from the NHL on down. He pointed to Hockey Night in Canada and the other sports networks and the way they showcase the most violent aspects of the game.
"It's how they introduce the game and show the highlights. I think there are other ways to promote the sport through the great plays and goals," Nicholson said.
Al Hubbs, the president of the Saskatchewan Hockey Association, believes what's happening in the NHL, the wanton disrespect and rash of head injuries, has left a sour taste in everyone's mouth.
"The biggest thing is because of the NHL. It's almost given the game a bad name," he said. "Don't think about what the NHL does and put it into minor hockey. Checking from behind was a huge thing. There are still penalties called but it's not the item of the day."
Nicholson was asked about the declining number of kids signing up for minor hockey. Registration numbers recently released by Hockey Canada showed a drop to 569,000 from 576,000 last year. There are several reasons for the fall-off - the high cost of equipment, the availability of ice time - as well as the safety issue, which is concerning more parents.
"Whenever [the concussion issue]comes up, they say, 'I'm not putting my kid in hockey,' " Hubbs said. "But if you put it in perspective with the number of games we play [in minor hockey across Canada] it's minimal."
Nicholson said it wasn't likely that come the AGM the 13 hockey associations would change their current stance on bodychecking. In nine associations, bodychecking is taught at the peewee level, ages nine to 10. In Saskatchewan, Ontario and Ottawa, it begins at atom (ages 11 to 12). In Prince Edward Island, it starts at bantam (ages 13 to 14).