Hockey Canada is seeking to create more options for young players looking to avoid the risks that come with playing in contact leagues.
A growing number of hockey players are seeking non-bodychecking environments, said Paul Carson, the organization's vice-president of hockey development.
He said Hockey Canada wants to accommodate these players as much as possible to prevent them from dropping out of the game.
“If there is a fear of injury, if there is a fear of intimidation, then we need to create an environment where those youngsters feel that they can make a choice to play the game,” Carson told The Canadian Press on Friday.
“We as adults in recreational hockey can make that choice.”
Carson added that the demand is particularly high among young players in rural communities.
“Where your collection of players is very small, you've got to make a choice one way or another,” he said.
“Do all the players play with bodychecking or do all the players play with no bodychecking?”
Carson was speaking ahead of a two-day summit in Montreal on various hockey issues. The gathering ends Saturday.
Much attention has been focused recently on player safety after a number of serious head injuries to NHLers, including Sidney Crosby.
It is still uncertain when, or if, the Pittsburgh Penguins star will make a full recovery from a concussion he suffered last season.
Carson acknowledged that the media attention surrounding Crosby's injury has increased awareness about safety issues in the sport.
But by taking such measures as a zero-tolerance policy on headshots, Hockey Canada is doing its part to make the game safer, he said.
“We need to be able to react in a positive way and make these changes, and control what we can control,” Carson said.
“Organizations like the CHL, the NHL — they all have their own responsibilities to look at the trends and determine what changes need to occur to create a safer environment for the players.
“Our job is to look at the grassroots level and respond accordingly.”
Currently, bodychecking is introduced in peewee, meaning children as young as 11 are playing in full-contact leagues.
Quebec is the sole exception, where hitting is only allowed in bantam (13-14-year-olds).
The provincial hockey association, however, is seeking to streamline the instruction peewee players receive in order to introduce them to contact gradually.
“Our ultimate goal is to make the game safer and we think this first step regarding physical contact will help us enormously,” Sylvain Lalonde, Hockey Quebec's director general, said in a recent interview.
“The peewee level will be a sort of progression to the next level, where it will be easier to teach the bodycheck.”
A central theme running through the hockey summit will be player development and retention. Carson said player safety is important to keeping youngsters involved.
“You want youngsters to start playing the game feeling that it is a safe environment,” he said.
“But you also have the responsibility to show due diligence over time, so players stay in the game... and the only way you can to that is by constantly improving the environment.”
Along with Hockey Canada officials, participants at the summit will include Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Martin, Hall-of-Famer Luc Robitaille and current Philadelphia Flyers forward Maxime Talbot.
-With files from Julien Arsenault
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