Hockey Canada has banned bodychecking at the peewee-level, and some Hamilton minor hockey leaders hockey are praising the decision.
The contentious move has prompted mixed reaction from across the country, as parents, hockey organizations and medical professionals weigh in on the ruling.
"In a lot of ways, I think it's a good thing," said Fred Hamilton, the vice-president of Hamilton's Chedoke Minor Hockey Association. "There's all sorts of evidence that points to older players understanding hitting better."
Hockey Canada voted overwhelmingly to eliminate bodychecking at the peewee level during its annual general meeting in Charlottetown on Saturday. Peewee players are usually 11 or 12 years old.
Only the Saskatchewan Hockey Association voted against the proposal.
The move follows previous bodychecking bans in peewee games by hockey associations in Quebec, Nova Scotia and Alberta.
Carolyn Emery is a physiotherapist and associate professor at the University of Calgary who authored a 2010 study that found bodychecking is linked to a threefold higher risk of concussion and other injuries among 11- and 12-year-olds. She praised the decision.
"This policy change will prevent at least 5,000 injuries and over 1,500 concussions in 11- and 12-year-old hockey players next season," Emery said in a statement released Sunday.
Daryl Villeneuve of Hamilton's Lawfield Minor Hockey Association was on board with the decision, too. He'd heard rumblings of a vote coming on bodychecking at the peewee level some months ago, he says.
"We employ people at Hockey Canada to make the best decisions for our kids," he said. "I hope it will put more emphasis on skating and skills."
Ban is 'ridiculous', some say
However, not everyone is so gung-ho about eliminating checking. Some say the ban will delay the development of much-needed skills on the ice that involve hits and physical play.
"I think it's ridiculous [that] they're taking it out. Of course you're going to get injuries, but you get injuries in any sport doing anything," said Windsor Minor Hockey Association president Dean Lapierre, who added that physical contact is part of hockey.
Lapierre said the real problem isn't bodychecking itself.
"It's teaching the kids how to take a hit. Now they're not going to start checking until bantam, where you have players that went through puberty and others haven't, and they're going to be running around with all this built up aggression after not being able to check," he said.
Hockey analyst Don Cherry also weighed in on the debate during his segment on Hockey Night in Canada, saying the ban could result in more injuries because young players will not gain experience with hitting until they are older.
"But what's going to happen is these kids are going to go up to [age] 13, and then they're going to go in with kids that hit," the former NHL coach said Saturday.
"And they don't know how to protect themselves, they're going to go out there…when you're not hitting, you have your head down."
Hockey Canada's ban on bodychecking at the peewee level will come into effect during the 2013-2014 season, which starts in September.