The minor hockey discussions have been fiery. No matter where you are, coast to coast, fans of the game have been weighing in on the debate through Our Game, and it's been fantastic.
Should coaches be paid? When is it safe to introduce bodychecking, if ever? How much hockey is too much hockey?
We've also noticed many of you have questions about the game, whether you're a coach, parent, player or fan. And we have answers and advice for you.
Our Game senior writer, minor hockey coach and player Kristina Rutherford will be fielding your questions with the help of hockey experts from across the country. This is Our Game's 'Ask the Experts,' so send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll field them as they come in.
Let's kick things off with a few queries from Our Game community members:
Q: Does my son need a mouth guard to play hockey? Sandra, new hockey parent
A: Sounds like a perfect question for Our Game's Equipment Guy, Ron Kuipers. Here's what he had to say about this one:
The answer is yes and no, depending on where you live in Canada.
Mandatory use of mouth guards in minor hockey does not blanket the country the same way throat protectors (neck guards) have recently become compulsory for both boys and girls. That's why I can't give you the answer you're looking for without knowing where your son is playing.
If, for example, he plays hockey in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL), mouth guard use is optional. But if he plays hockey in the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA), mouth guard use is mandatory.
The only way to know for sure is to ask your local minor hockey organization.
Having said that, I think you'll find most people in hockey will advise your son to wear a mouth guard for games and practices no matter what the rule states, because a mouth guard will help protect his teeth and jaw.
By the way, the number of organizations making mouth guards mandatory is increasing each year. In Alberta, for example, the Brooks Minor Hockey Association just made mouth guards mandatory on January 1, 2009 for all players from Novice to Midget.
More on mouth guards:
Q: My team can't seem to get the puck out of our end. Any ideas? Jerry, Winnipeg, Man.
A: Ah, the classic breakout problem. The solution needs to start in practice.
Dedicate at least half of your next practice to going through breakout drills that will give your players different options to move the puck out of the defensive end.
Start with the classic pass from the D to the winger, and eventually move into an option that will see the D carry the puck out your end, or you can try a give-and-go between the D and a forward.
Make sure every line runs the breakouts without pressure until they're able to execute perfectly. Then add the forecheckers, first with one or two players, until the defensive team is comfortable enough to execute properly. Then you can get the full 5-on-5 going. Eventually your team should have three or four breakout options under their belts and be able to execute the right option to get the puck out depending on the pressure they're facing.
Here are three drills from Our Game's practice planner to give your team breakout options:
Make sure breakouts are a part of every practice from now on. It's a great way to get the legs moving, and the drill can extend to include your team moving through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone for a scoring chance. Most good breakout drills do.
What's important to remember is a good breakout doesn't happen overnight, so don't expect quick results. It could be weeks or even months before your team is moving the puck out of your end effectively.
Q: I want to get into coaching my son's Timbits team next year. Do I need to take a course? Reg, Calgary, Alta.
A: Yes, unless you tag along with an experienced coach.
Hockey Alberta makes it mandatory for one coach of every team to have a few courses under their belt before getting behind the bench.
Here's what you'll need: Intro to Hockey, Hockey Canada Safety certification, and Speak Out Abuse and Harassment certification. That last one, the Speak Out course, is mandatory for everyone.
The organization encourages all coaches and instructors become certified, so it's probably a good idea, especially if you want to be a head coach in the future.
Have a question of your own? Send it, along with your name and hometown, to email@example.com.