Paul Krestanowich says he loves hockey, but he loves his kids more.
"My wife plays it, I play it, my kids play it," said Krestanowich, who is the president of the Assiniboine Park Hockey Association. His four kids are all under 13 years old.
"But at the same time, they want it to be safe and not get their brains scrambled playing that sport."
- Dealing with the impact of concussions in sports
- Classes after concussions: Study looks at when it's safe
After Hockey Winnipeg removed bodychecking from the game for players age 12 and under last year, the "brain scrambling" could now be expanded to other levels.
Currently there are about 10,000 hockey players who aren't allowed to bodycheck in Winnipeg, but that number could go up.
'Extending that opportunity'
Hockey Manitoba says expanding a no-bodychecking policy for young players could be a good thing.
"[Hockey Winnipeg] introduced the program last year where they removed bodychecking at certain age groups, and [we] are looking to extend that opportunity," said Peter Woods, Hockey Manitoba's executive director.
"Hockey Manitoba applauds their efforts to take steps like this to make sure the game is safer for all participants."
While there are no firm plans in the works, Woods said expanding the no-contact rule to other levels might help players who don't plan on skating all the way to the NHL.
"Especially [for] the kids who aren't maybe going on to higher levels like junior or college, it's still an opportunity for them to be involved and play the game," he said.
Retribution rather than tactic
Woods said removing bodychecking might help kids play hockey longer. He said some of the older players are still using bodychecks for the wrong reasons.
"I think they are looking at right now the midget-age group, all the way to that particular category and the different categories they've identified," he said.
"You have kids that participate in the game where there is contact involved, and they might not have the fundamental skills to execute those skills. They are using it more as a retribution than they are as a tactic to participate in the game."
And that retribution can cause some serious damage.
"Most common symptoms after a concussion are like headaches, feeling dizzy, sensitive to lights," said Dr. Michael Ellis, the medical director at the Pan Am Concussion Clinic in Winnipeg.
- New concussion clinic for children, youth, opens in Winnipeg
- Winnipeg concussion expert advocates for province-wide protocols
"Symptoms can be very subtle and some of those can involve feeling irritable or not concentrating or feeling foggy, which kids have much more difficulty recognizing."
Ellis said there are other options for keeping the game safe, rather than removing hitting altogether.
"At the present time, there's no firm initiative to ban bodychecking in all forms of hockey," Ellis said.
"We've been speaking with Monte Miller [Hockey Winnipeg's executive director] about supporting their initiative to start a non-contact league children could sign up for. There's an opportunity to participate in hockey where there's less of a risk of concussion and less of exposure to bodychecking."
That's good news for Krestanowich, who said parents are looking for more non-contact leagues.
"There just isn't a need for it [contact] at most levels of hockey anymore in our country," he said.
Hockey Winnipeg declined to comment on Monday.