Calgary

6,000 fewer injuries when bodychecking pulled from some bantam hockey: study

A University of Calgary researcher says thousands of injuries — including concussions — could be avoided nationally if bodychecking were fully eliminated in non-elite bantam hockey, ages 13 and 14, but in the opinion of a seasoned hockey coach, it was a mistake to remove contact at the younger peewee level.

Estimate based on 2-year U of C study comparing 1,000 players in leagues with hitting and without

Multiple studies show a dramatic decrease in some levels of youth hockey when bodychecking is yanked, but a seasoned coach says there could be more injuries down the line if it's not taught early. (The Canadian Press, David Bell/CBC)

A University of Calgary researcher says thousands of injuries — including concussions — could be avoided nationally if bodychecking were fully eliminated in non-elite bantam hockey, ages 13 and 14, but in the opinion of a seasoned hockey coach, it was a mistake to remove contact at the younger peewee level.

Currently, checking is allowed at the higher levels of bantam, like AAA and AA, but it's a mixed bag in non-elite leagues.

Some allow it, some don't.

If contact were fully removed from all non-elite leagues, a new study shows a dramatic reduction in injuries, according to the lead researcher.

"We would save over 6,000 injuries nationally in one season in just 13- and 14-year-olds," Carolyn Emery told The Homestretch.

"So a pretty significant public health impact."

Emery is an expert in the field of study. She is chair of the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre and a kinesiology professor at the University of Calgary.

The two-year study included 1,000 players from B.C. and Alberta, some in leagues with hitting, some without.

When a league removed bodychecking, injury rates dropped.

"Over a couple of seasons, we see a 60 per cent reduction in all injury risk where it's disallowed. That 60 per cent includes concussions, which account for almost 50 per cent of injuries in the study," Emery said.

Mickey Kluner — a self-described advocate — says his decade of coaching leads him to believe hitting should return to the peewee level because it could reduce injuries later on.

"In my opinion, eliminating contact in peewee has led to more injuries in bantam. I don't have the statistics on that, but being involved, my belief is, you now have kids in bantam, some that are 5-foot-4 and others over 6 feet of equal calibre, learning how to make and take a hit," he said.

Kluner has run a skills development program for all ages and levels in Calgary for 10 years, and coached for eight years, primarily bantam. He has also been a player and had a concussion himself.

"No one wants their child to get hurt playing hockey, but the more serious hockey players realize that there is a physical component to hockey. It is a fast game, but again, no one wants injuries. I am an advocate for contact because it is part of the game," Kluner said.

"I get there is a new age of hockey, there is. If you watch the NHL, it's a totally new age of hockey with speed and skill before big hits. But it is still part of the game that needs to be adaptable and an element, in my opinion."

Hockey Canada saw it differently when it banned hitting at the peewee level in 2013.

A study published four years later in 2017, also by the University of Calgary, found that change dropped concussions by 64 per cent and slashed overall injuries in half.

When the current study focused on just concussions in non-hitting leagues, the results weren't as black and white.

"We see a 40 per cent reduction in the risk of concussions in leagues that don't allow bodychecking. In this study that was not statistically significant but I think we can agree, that is certainly clinically relevant," Emery said.

"We are not going to completely eliminate concussions and other injuries in most sports, but I think we can have a significant effect in reducing the risk and severity of injury."

And there's another piece of the conversation, she adds.

"Doing economic evaluations is also important, how are we impacting health care utilization?"

New research from the University of Calgary examines the rate of injuries and concussions for Bantam hockey players who engage in body-checking compared to Bantam players who don't. Carolyn Emery from the University of Calgary joins us to discuss the research. 7:40

With files from Ellis Choe and The Homestretch

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