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U.S. moves to protect its peewees

02/11/2011, 8:45am MST
By Eric Duhatschek

Copyright 2011 The Globe and Mail, a division of CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc.
All Rights Reserved
The Globe and Mail (Canada)

USA Hockey is considering a proposal that would make bodychecking illegal for all players under 13, an initiative sure to ignite the growing debate over the proper time to introduce contact at the grassroots level.

The proposed measure was raised at USA Hockey's annual winter meeting in Colorado Springs, Colo., and according to the association's senior director of hockey development, Kevin McLaughlin, it was not designed primarily to address safety issues.

"It is a skill development initiative first," said McLaughlin, who explained that his organization's research found that bodychecking at the peewee level was significantly distracting players from improving their skills at a critical time in their development. Too often, he said, players of that age were either too focused on hitting or trying to avoid a hit.

"We have to capitalize on what is known as the optimal window of skill acquisition - the age that a kid can maximize his genetic potential, whatever that might be. In hockey, skill acquisition - that optimum trainability - is through 12 years old. So we had to ask ourselves, for two years, are we creating an environment where the focus is on hitting and not on making plays?"

The USA Hockey proposals, which also seek to penalize all contact to the head and neck area, will be voted on at the organization's annual congress in June.

According to McLaughlin, a series of research studies into head injuries that culminated with a concussion summit at the Mayo Clinic last fall also reinforced the need for the initiatives. McLaughlin cited a seminal report conducted by University of Calgary researcher Carolyn Emery and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association as pivotal as well.

Emery's report followed more than 2,000 peewee players - half from Alberta leagues, where bodychecking was permitted, and the rest from Quebec, where it wasn't. The results show a significant difference in the number of head injuries, with 73 concussions among Alberta players over the 2007-2008 season, compared to 20 in Quebec. There were 14 severe concussions in Alberta, versus four in Quebec.

"What we find is that an 11-year-old brain is more susceptible to concussion," McLaughlin said.

"The 11- and 12-year-old brain is not cognitively developed to anticipate being hit. So if you can't anticipate it and you can't protect yourself, you're putting yourself in a predicament to suffer a more severe injury."

Not all hockey associations in Canada are in lockstep with the USA Hockey proposal, including the Ontario Hockey Federation, whose executive director Phillip McKee said Tuesday: "It's not on our radar to raise the age."

"There's a lot of research out there on when bodychecking is best introduced," McKee said. "Some would argue it is important to introduce it at a younger age where there isn't as much testosterone involved, where there's less discrepancy in the size of the individual players."

It is also a matter of some debate in Quebec, the province with the toughest restrictions on bodychecking, where the venerable Quebec peewee tournament has amended its rule to include a division where bodychecking is permitted.

Quebec is the only province in Canada where bodychecking is banned at the peewee level - and there is pressure from within to soften that stance, according to Patrick Dom, general manager of the Quebec international pee-pee tournament, the world's largest hockey event for 11- and 12-year-olds.

"I'm certainly in favour of [checking], otherwise we would never have pushed to include it in the tournament," Dom said in a telephone interview.

This year's edition of the tournament that has featured Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and other stars kicks off next week. It will feature 2,200 players on 114 teams from 15 countries, with a new wrinkle: an elite AA division where checking will be permitted. But to Dom's discomfiture, no Quebec teams will be allowed to enter that division, which was created in part because local teams were having trouble competing against squads from other places who are accustomed to a rougher brand of hockey.

"There's bodychecking in peewee all over the world - except in Quebec," Dom said. "It's not like our kids can't do it."

If the USA Hockey plan to raise the minimum age of bodychecking by two years succeeds, McLaughlin said peewee teams will be still encouraged to learn the art of hitting during practices - and described it as the hockey equivalent of a two-year drivers education program. The hope is that when players reach the bantam age, they will be familiar enough by practising bodychecking that the transition will be relatively smooth and seamless.

"We're not taking all contact out," McLaughlin said. "We want to get away from the intimidating hit, the idea of de-cleating the kid like they do in football. If you watch NHL Classics, it's kind of what old classic NHL games used to be - not the Broad Street Bullies era, but the old days when guys wore cotton shoulder pads and soft elbow pads and no helmets. That was good enough for pros back then."

According to USA Hockey president Ron DeGregorio, the proposed bodychecking modifications appear to have "significant support" within his organization.

"In the end, we need to do what is best for the kids who play the game," DeGregorio said.

With reports from Sean Gordon in Montreal and Robert MacLeod in Toronto

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Three ways to beat burnout

11/28/2016, 9:45pm MST
By Dave Pond

According to NHL metrics, the average hockey shift lasts somewhere between 45 and 55 seconds. There’s inherent beauty and fluidity to line changes, as skaters come on and off the ice, looking to recharge after going full throttle for their teams.

Meanwhile, your NHL officiating peers are giving their all, too – regularly logging 4-5 miles a game. Those totals are even greater at your level, where you and your colleagues officiate multiple games a day, several times per week, on a seemingly never-ending calendar.

And, although we want to perform our best every game, everyone has both good days and bad – players and officials alike. To learn more about keeping burnout at bay, we went to the experts: longtime amateur hockey scheduler Larry Carrington and former NHL official Mark Faucette.

“There is so much more to officiating than meets the eye,” said Faucette, a 17-year NHL veteran. “It may look easy from the stands, but to maintain total control of a game along with the stress, slumps, supervisors, travel, and fitness regimen takes a very special kind of person.”

Get in shape (and stay there)
We all think we’re in “pretty good” shape, but the reality is, officials must be top athletes and in great condition – even at the youngest levels.

“Conditioning is very important—the deeper into the season, the more important it is,” Carrington said. “Burnout happens physically, mentally, and emotionally. An official who is in good condition will experience less physical burnout, and that will in turn help with the emotional and mental burnout.”

Faucette stresses following a workout routine that maxes yourself at least every other day. Neither player or official should plan to use games as a vehicle toward better physical fitness.

“Where we used to go to camp to get into shape, officials today are on summer conditioning regimens and are tested as soon as they come to camp,” he said. “Taking care of your body is a total focus for the good official.

“The players are so much stronger and faster now, so it’s imperative the officials keep the same pace.”

Find balance
No, not balance on your skates (that’s a given). Rather, make sure to keep the big picture in mind, to work a manageable schedule that includes everything that’s important to you – family, friends, and time away from the rink.

Although it makes Carrington’s job as an assignor more difficult, he said it pays off in the long run.

“I encourage officials to take at least one weekend off to get away from hockey,” he said. “I certainly don't want to lose their services for a week, but the invigoration that it usually provides makes them a much more valuable asset over the course of the season.”

That’s huge in an industry where both mental and physical fatigue are commonplace.

“Every official runs into slumps, just as players do,” Faucette said. “You spend numerous hours alone as an official, and when things are not going good, where everything is negative, it can cause you duress.

“Positive thoughts and self-evaluations speed up recovery,” he continued. “So, instead of telling yourself, ‘I wonder what bad thing will happen tonight?’ say ‘I’m ready for anything – bring it on!’”

Have fun
It’s No. 3 here, but should be No. 1 on your to-do list.

“I realize the officials are all trying hard, and mistakes are part of any sport by any participant,” said Faucette, who currently serves as supervisor of officials for USA Hockey, the NAHL director of player safety and the SPHL director of officiating. “That being said, the joy I get out of seeing a young official start out at ground level and making the big time one day is immeasurable.”

For most of you reading this, the “big time” might not be the end goal (and that’s OK). But wherever you are, there’s experience you’ve gained, as well as that to come – which both point back to why you first got involved in this great sport.

As an assignor, Carrington tries to get out of the office as much as he can and intentionally varies the schedules of his officials to help keep things fresh. He also encourages his more senior officials to lend a hand to those who aren’t as long in the tooth.

“Going to the rink and helping officials help themselves get better can be very invigorating,” he said. “Even a very good, very experienced official will often find it fun and relaxing to mentor some new official at a lower-level game where the stress levels aren’t nearly as high.”

But no matter where you officiate, Carrington emphasizes keeping one thing in mind: the love of the sport and those playing it today.

“If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be out there.”

Tag(s): Body-Checking Rule