For Thursday’s York Daily Record, I wrote a story on the issue of concussions in youth ice hockey, and the rules changes USA Hockey is considering to help cut down on injures. You can read that story here.
One of the impetuses for that piece came from an ESPN Outside the Lines segment which featured York Devils Bantam AA coach Brian Doyle. He was skeptical of USA Hockey’s proposal to delay body checking until the start of Bantam hockey (14-and-under). You can see the entire segment here.
The one thing Doyle stressed during my phone interview with him was that his opposition to USA Hockey’s plan had nothing to do with dulling down the game, or some old-school view that hockey without checking isn’t really hockey. He felt removing contact from the Pee Wee level (12-and-under) would make players unprepared to protect themselves from big hits once they reached the Bantam level.
“Right now the kids can start checking at the Pee Wee level,” Doyle told me. “When they can come into that level, they’re very excited that they can start checking. It’s a big deal.
“Now that excitement is going to go to kids who are a lot bigger, a lot stronger. There’s some kids at the Bantam level that are 6-foot, 200 pounds. Then there are kids that are much, much smaller. With all the hormones and everything else, there are going to be kids looking to hit each other.
“I think that USA Hockey should do what Canada does, which is allow body contact at the very youngest ages of hockey. When the kids grow up with body contact and with checking, they gain experience in knowing how to do it safely. They gain experience knowing how not to put themselves in a bad area of the ice. They gain experience playing with their head up.
“It’s a contact sport, you’re always going to have injuries, unfortunately. But I think the best way you prevent injuries is through experience playing and how to keep yourself safe.”
Doyle added he feels USA Hockey should work diligently to address checks aimed at the head area.
“The thing that really, really, really needs to be addressed as part of or a precursor to any checking, is the head contact. That’s a big concern. We’ve seen a little bit of it this year, but any kind of head contact or from behind type hits, those are what needs to be clamped down on.
“Everybody is concerned about concussions and everybody wants to be proactive. The consensus I think is mixed. I think the people that really grew up with the game and know the game see the value in players gaining experience being able to protect themselves with body contact, and if they go into bantam without that experience it could be even more damaging.”
For plenty more on USA Hockey checking proposal, you can head to the organization’s website.