Power: Will we go in the wrong direction on bodychecking?
This weekend, dozens of normally like-minded individuals will gather in a Gander hotel and debate policy, pass motions and even argue over issues that come to the floor at their annual meeting.
And that’s just at the Liberal convention.
Meanwhile, a few hundred yards down the Trans-Canada Highway, another group called Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador – some may not call this contingent like-minded – will gather and do exactly the same thing the Liberals are doing; argue over policy, make motions and discuss ways to make things better.
Or so they think.
One of the biggest items on the agenda — and incidentally Motion #24 out of 24 — is the one looking to remove bodychecking from all levels of minor hockey, with the exception of AAA bantam and midget hockey.
[For those who are not closely associated with minor hockey, AAA hockey is the highest level of play in any given age group. In midget, the highest level is also referred to as major midget.]
Bodychecking is already prohibited in all levels of female hockey as well as pee wee and below. The revised wording of the motion removes checking from certain levels of bantam and midget, and is designed to keep players in the game, according to the rationale on the motion:
“This resolution is proposed for discussion based on the trend being followed with other branches in Canada,” the motion states, under ‘Rationale for Change.’ “This is also responding to the recommendations of the Canadian Pediatrics Association from 2013. This proposed movement on the issue of bodychecking is to support membership retention and enhance player safety. Our current minor hockey structure of teams based on geography further necessitates the need to amend our playing rules to ensure the safety and retention of all our players. The success in the game is evident in non-bodychecking hockey and we feel this will keep players in our game longer. Leaving the bodychecking at our AAA categories provides this segment of our membership the ability to continue to play the game at that level.”
In 2013, Hockey Canada and its branches decided to take checking out of peewee and not introduce it until bantam. Many people applauded the move, citing dwindling registration and an increasing number of concussions in the game.
However, all Hockey Canada did by raising the age limit on checking from 11 to 13 was hurt the game and its players. Now, with this motion to remove it almost entirely, they are doing more damage.
Just so you are aware, checking will not disappear from the game. The motion says that anybody charged with bodychecking will be given a penalty. The punishment may be a two-minute minor, or could even be a major (five minutes) or a game misconduct, depending on whether an injury results. So while checking will not be permitted, it will still be present, to a degree.
Wrong move was made
My personal opinion — and it’s not going to be popular — is that the national body made the wrong move and moved the legal age for bodychecking in the wrong direction. It should have introduced the skill of checking in atom instead of bantam.
Atom consists of nine- and 10-year-old boys and girls. With the rare exception, the kids in this age group are generally the same size and weight. More importantly, they haven’t developed their skating to the point where they generate enough speed to hit and hurt someone.
There is only one legitimate reason for one player to check another — to separate him from the puck. It’s not designed to see a kid’s stick fly into the stands like a cheerleader’s runaway baton.
Atom hockey is the best place for minor hockey players to be taught this skill. In bantam, the height and weight differences from an early 14-year-old and a late 13-year-old can be tremendous, as much as five or six inches and as many as 50 pounds, if not more. As well, kids in this age group are into puberty and body changes, not to mention peer pressure from teammates to check someone for no other reason than to hit him.
We should start in atom
Before you freak out and start yelling at your laptop or tablet, the caveat that checking remain comes with a big condition: That the skill is taught by qualified people and taught in a proper manner.
Checking doesn’t even have to be introduced in the games until pee wee, but if it’s being taught as a skill in atom, players will learn to respect that skill like the others in the game.
There is only one legitimate reason for one player to check another — to separate him from the puck. It’s not designed to see a kid’s stick fly into the stands like a cheerleader’s runaway baton, twirling end over end while the player picks himself up off the ice. It’s not designed to have one player steamroll over another to the delight of teammates. It’s not set up to answer grudges, or to allow one player to "get back" at another. These types of thought processes come into play in bantam.
If the skill – and people really need to understand that checking is a skill like skating, shooting and passing – is taught properly, at the right age, checking can be a very controlled part of the game.
(Truth be told, even though checking is allowed in bantam and midget currently, at the house league level at least — where kids of all abilities gather for a fun, competitive game — checking is practically non-existent.)
A big impact down the road
Removing this skill will have an impact a few years down the road, when a young player, having not encountered body contact in any level of hockey, suddenly grows a few inches, gains a few pounds and develops a level of ability that gets him a shot at AAA midget hockey. Suddenly, he’s exposed to a different game than he’s used to playing.
Now, facing a group of kids who probably played AAA in bantam, this kid will be at a physical disadvantage, and potentially be in more danger.
This weekend, Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador will err on the side of political correctness and undoubtedly ban checking, but they’ll do so with this caveat: Checking will be removed from house league play, but permitted in what the association calls “competitive” hockey.
I actually believe that’s been the plan all along. Listening to various individuals involved, it seems the motion is not meant to be as literal as it’s written.
That leads me to think that you can appease a lot more people by backing off the total ban, and take it out of house league, or recreational hockey for those not involved.
Removing checking from the game entirely is the wrong decision, plain and simple, and will do more harm than good.
Follow Don Power on Twitter at @PowerPlay27.