A group of GTA hockey organizations could face heavy penalties from Hockey Canada for refusing to implement a new rule that requires all players under the age of 7 to play on half of the rink.
Phil McKee, Director of the Ontario Hockey Federation, says that all tyke level house leagues affiliated with Hockey Canada are making the move this season to what is called cross-ice play, in which half of the rink is blocked off and nets are placed on the sideboards.
But 25 GTA house league organizations argue that while the regular tyke-level house league teams are ready to make the switch to half-ice, the "select" teams, drawn from the top players in house league to play each other at arenas all over the city, aren't prepared to make the jump.
So those leagues have told Hockey Canada they'll be playing full-ice for their select teams this season.
The ramifications of not complying could go far beyond the 5 and 6-year-old tyke level select teams: a July letter from the Ontario Hockey Federation said that players of all ages from non-compliant organizations will be barred from participating in or hosting tournaments.
Clear 'benefits' to cross-ice play
McKee points out that creating a smaller playing surface for children is hardly new.
"We see in other sports, tennis has gone to it, soccer does it already, baseball does it already," he said, adding that Hockey Canada's research shows that less ice can make a big difference in getting players involved in games.
"In the range of 200% more shots and opportunities, plus an increased opportunity of being on the ice," he said.
Scott Waddell, president of the Faustina Hockey Club, doesn't dispute the upsides of cross-ice hockey.
"There's a lot of science behind what they're doing, and frankly there's a lot of benefits," he said in an interview on Metro Morning.
The problem, said Waddell, is that unlike regular house league arenas where most 5 and 6-year-olds play, the arenas where select hockey is played are not equipped with the infrastructure to divide the rink in half.
"With the rep league, you've got games happening in rinks all across the city," he said.
He also said that hockey organizations were only notified that select teams would be included in the cross-ice play mandate in June — long after children had tried out and parents had paid this year's fees.
McKee argues that the inclusion of select teams in the change was publicized long before June.
"There's been information that's been out there, in the public eye, since the last week of March," he said.
'I don't think it's broke'
Waddell said that there is a "spectrum" of opinions on whether select players should ever make the move to half-sized rinks at all, but that for this season, it would be impossible.
"If this is mandated and it has to happen this year, the entire thing is going to collapse," he said.
Steve Zinanni, president of the Mimico Canadiens, is skeptical of the change in general.
"It's a select format that's been going on for 65 years, I don't think it's broke, so I don't necessarily know if it needs to be fixed," he said.
Zinanni would prefer to see Hockey Canada leave the decision up to league officials, coaches and players.
"It shouldn't be mandated, I think it should be a guideline," he said.
McKee told CBC Toronto on Monday that the letter in July still stands: organizations that don't comply with the new rules will face heavy sanctions that would restrict them from playing in or hosting any tournaments, regardless of age group.
He will meet with the GTA house league officials Tuesday to discuss the move to cross-ice play.