A survey conducted on behalf of the Rick Hansen Institute finds that 87 per cent of Canadian adults feel that hockey carries a “significant risk” of head, neck and brain injury. The respondents obviously have a passing knowledge of the sport. They understand it’s an incredibly physical game, one based upon physical dominance and sheer intimidation. They see the video highlights of players attempting to separate an opponent from the puck, while at the same time attempting to separate him from his head.
Oh yes, we’ve glorified the physicality of hockey for far too long. And where has it landed us? Well, our children are suffering head injuries at an alarming rate. In fact, I suggest that any time a child suffers a head injury we should be alarmed.
And we are.
The Hansen Institute survey also found that 75 per cent of hockey parents would support a policy that banned bodychecking at the peewee level, ages 11 and 12. At the bantam level (13 and 14) a full 62 per cent of hockey parents would support outlawing bodychecking.
Parents, of course, are responsible for the well-being of their children, and if they want to remove body contact from the sport at a younger age, we should listen to them. There’s no need to study the issue further. No need to worry about how it will impact our country’s dominance in the hockey universe. Let’s do it. Now.
There’s no body contact permitted at the peewee level in the United States or Quebec. Those jurisdictions continue to produce elite-level players. The U.S. has won two of the last four World Junior Championships and is generally regarded as the biggest international threat to our hockey dominance – and Lord knows we sure as heck don’t dominate the game the way we once did.
Hey, perhaps we could learn a few things from our American friends. By delaying the implementation of bodychecking, we would allow for the physical disparities between children to even out. If you’ve seen a peewee game recently, you’ll understand that some of the kids are rather well developed, while others just haven’t hit the same growth spurt. The bigger, stronger kids will target the smaller ones, just to intimidate them, or in some cases to intentionally injure them.
If we can rid the sport of bodychecking in peewee and bantam, fewer children would leave the sport, and if we can keep them engaged in hockey through their teen years, there’s a better chance they’ll continue to enjoy playing the game as adults. They just won’t be playing the game at the professional level. And considering only 1 in 3,000 kids will ever play professionally, that’s a risk we should be willing to take.