Experts at an international conference on hockey concussions have recommended body checking be taken out of the game until the players reach the age of 13, a move that would help reduce the number of head injuries.
Doctors, scientists, equipment manufacturers and top hockey officials from Canada and the United States attended the two-day conference at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., examining how to better deal with concussions in hockey.
One panel of experts that addressed conference delegates recommended hits involving contact to the head be eliminated for all levels of hockey — from the novice years right through to the NHL.
Former referee Kerry Fraser was among the speakers at the two-day conference.
As part of his presentation, Fraser showed a video of lateral blindside hits targeting the head, which the NHL banned earlier this year, reported Teddy Katz of CBC Sports from Minnesota.
Fraser said that while it's good the NHL has taken some action, the league still allows too many dangerous hits to the head to go unpunished.
"They needed to start somewhere … they need to revamp it because there's going to be more concussions until they do," he said.
Part of the problem in today's game is a lack of respect and concern for other players' safety, Fraser said.
"I see where the game is at now. Culturally, [it's] not different than bench-clearing brawls [and] the breaking of the sticks over people's heads," Fraser said. "It has to change … the culture, that mindset."
Hockey culture won't change by mandate
Experts at the conference agreed that until hits are eliminated, rules dealing with contact to the head must be better enforced and suspensions for all penalties must be imposed.
They also suggested that everyone involved in minor hockey — from players to parents and coaches — needs to be better educated about concussions so that they understand how frequently those types of injuries happen and how important it is to take them seriously.
Dr. Ruben Echemendia, director of the NHL's neuropsychological testing program, chairs a group that examines concussions for the league.
He said the NHL is taking head shots seriously and pointed to the new rule that's already produced one suspension this year.
The league suspended Phoenix Coyotes forward Shane Doan for three games on Monday after the captain delivered a late hit from the blind side to the head of Anaheim Ducks forward Dan Sexton the previous night.
Echemendia said the NHL constantly monitors hits that cause concussions and the league is considering changing the rules in the future.
But Echemendia said he does agree with Fraser in one area.
"There is a strong culture in hockey, and there's a long history in hockey," he said. "Culture is a very difficult thing to change over time, and you're not gong to change it by [a] mandate."