Saskatchewan

Saskatoon, Regina hockey associations ban body checking in Midget, Bantam B levels

Blair Watson, executive director of Hockey Regina, said it's quite common for kids to quit hockey when they get to the Bantam level because that's when body checking is introduced.

Body checking will remain in the more competitive levels of play

From now on, body checking will not be allowed in the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association (SMHA) and Hockey Regina's Bantam B and Midget B levels of play. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan's two biggest minor hockey associations have collectively agreed to ban body checking in lower divisions of two age groups.

From now on, body checking will not be allowed in the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association (SMHA) and Hockey Regina's Bantam B and Midget B levels of play.

Bantam players are aged 13 and 14-years-old, while Midget players are between 15 and 17-years-old.

The main reason for the change, according to a news release on the SMHA and Hockey Regina's website, is to keep kids playing. 

Blair Watson, executive director of Hockey Regina, said it's quite common for kids to quit hockey when they get to the Bantam level because that's when body checking is introduced.

"Some kids haven't grown yet, and some kids are a little bit smaller," Watson told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition. "So they drop out."

He said it's also a chance for those players to develop other skills besides body checking.

Kelly Boes, executive director of SMHA, agreed.

"[Players are] typically playing B or C not because of their ability to body check, they're not evaluated on that so much, it's more on their skating and puck skills," he told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

"It's an opportunity to work with groups of players that definitely would benefit from being able to handle the puck a little bit more and spend a little more time with the puck on their stick and improve their skills."

Boes said there has been a noticeable change in skill and fun level at the Peewee level since hitting was removed in 2013.

Success in other jurisdictions

Watson said hockey associations in Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton eliminated hitting at the same level about four years ago and have seen a number of improvements.

He said the neighbouring jurisdictions have seen less kids dropping out of hockey, less injuries, less penalties and "just less aggressive play overall."

"Kids are just more worried about playing the game versus trying to hit somebody," he said.

Boes said other jurisdictions have also seen a change in fans at the games.

"There has been a little less animosity in the crowds because sometimes parents get upset when they see their son or one of their son's teammates get hit hard," he said.

"And some people will think a clean check is dirty and a dirty check is clean — depending on the eye of the beholder if you know what I mean — so sometimes parents get a little worked up in the crowd."

Pushback

Despite the improvements in other hockey associations, Watson said not everyone is a fan of the decision.

"One of the arguments is body checking is part of the game, which it is but it's a small part of the game," he said.

Watson said some parents also worry their child won't be able to play at a higher level if they don't play with body checking.

To counter that, Watson echoed Boes by saying players at the B levels are placed there because they don't have the required skill level to play at a more competitive level, not because of their body checking ability or lack thereof.

"Let's get those other skill sets in place before you can play at a higher level," he said.

Watson said the response so far has been "extremely positive," although there have been some holdouts.

By the numbers

The SMHA compared the number of major and game penalties for body checking related violations between its no body checking Bantam C league versus Bantam B. 

It also compared the data from the no body checking Midget C league versus Midget B in the 2018-19 season, including penalties like checking from behind, head contact, boarding and charging.

In Bantam C there was one incident every 37 games, while Bantam B saw one incident every five games.

Midget C saw one incident every 15 games, with one incident every four games in Midget B.

Boes said majority of injuries players endured at the Bantam and Midget B levels were due to body checks into the boards or body checks that players weren't expecting.

Body checking will remain in the more competitive levels of play in the Bantam AA, Bantam A, Midget AAA, Midget AA and Midget A groups.

With files from The Morning Edition, Saskatoon Morning

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