The Ontario Hockey Federation's decision to ban bodychecking will likely draw more players to the game and keep others from dropping out, experts say.
The federation is making the change — which affects players between the ages of six and 21 — in an effort to create a safer environment for new players to develop skills.
"Probably the hottest topic over the course of the winter was concussions and some of the injuries that were occurring in the game," said Tony Martindale, executive director of the Minor Hockey Alliance of Ontario.
"I think the biggest concern is we all have to look at ways of keeping kids in the game longer."
The rule change, which was announced Wednesday, affects house league and select players in most of the province, though Ottawa and Thunder Bay aren't governed by the OHF.
Ottawa house and select leagues are governed by the Ottawa District Hockey Association, while Hockey Northwestern Ontario governs leagues in the Thunder Bay area.
House league includes players of all skill levels while select teams are made up of the top house league players.
York University health professor Alison Macpherson, who was among the first researchers to call for bodychecking to be disallowed in recreational hockey, calls it a great first step.
"I know some parents keep their kids out of hockey, especially out of competitive hockey, because they worry about the injuries that might ensue when kids are allowed to bodycheck," she said Thursday.
Bodychecking debated since 1981
OHF spokesman Phil McKee says parents have been calling on officials to ban bodychecking for years.
"Bodychecking's been a debate at every level for the past 30 years," he said. "It's been discussed since 1981."
Until now parents who wanted their child to play non-contact hockey didn't have many options, said Macpherson.
"There is pretty good scientific evidence that bodychecking, especially under the bantam level (age 13 and 14), leads to injury in youth ice hockey," she said.
A study published last year found kids who were bodychecked were about 2.45 times more likely to suffer an injury than kids who didn't play with body contact and 1.7 times more likely to suffer a concussion, she said.
"Kids are more likely to play if they think they're not going to get hurt," said Macpherson. "Which is great because we have an obesity epidemic."