The 2019-20 season is about to get underway and by now you’ve probably heard something about USA Hockey’s latest initiative that encourages a “change the culture” as to what is considered to be acceptable/unacceptable body checking and competitive contact at all levels of play.
The USA Hockey Declaration of Player Safety, Fair Play and Respect was adopted by USA Hockey’s Board of Directors at Annual Congress this past June. As part of this initiative, a comprehensive education program is taking place with parents, players, coaches and officials. There are no changes to the current rules or format, but some new language may be used to help enhance the understanding of what is acceptable/unacceptable behavior and add clarity to existing interpretations.
You can view the entire three-page Declaration (which we highly recommend) but have provided an overview of the relevant points for us in stripes.
COMPETITIVE CONTACT (Acceptable for Body Contact Category Games and is encouraged at all levels of play)
Competitive contact is body contact that occurs between two or more skaters who are in the vicinity of the puck and who are in the normal process of playing the puck. Physical contact is likely to occur between the players and is allowed provided the primary focus of the players is to gain possession of the puck. Examples of competitive contact include:
Additional acceptable forms of competitive contact include:
USA Hockey strongly encourages legal “competitive contact” to occur in all age classifications as part of the skill progression that teaches legal body checking. Non-check hockey does not mean no contact and the Body Contact Category game can be very physical. Officials are expected to have a thorough understanding of “competitive contact” principles and properly enforce these rules at all levels of play.
BODY CHECKING (The following guidelines apply to all games played in the Body Checking Category)
A body check represents intentional physical contact, from the front, diagonally from the front or straight from the side, by a skater to an opponent who is in control of the puck. Legitimate body checking must be done only with the trunk of the body (hips and shoulders) and must be above the opponent’s knees and at or below the opponent’s shoulders. The use of the hands, forearm, stick or elbow in delivering a body check is unacceptable and not within the guidelines of a legal body check.
The opposing player’s objective is to gain possession of the puck and proper body checking technique starts with stick on puck, therefore the stick blade of the player delivering the check must be below the knees. It is unacceptable to initiate a body check for the purpose to punish or intimidate an opponent.
The following are considered unacceptable body checking examples:
Officials are expected to strictly enforce all of the unacceptable body checking actions above with the understanding that the onus to deliver a legal body check is 100% on the player delivering the check.
UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT (All levels of play)
Another part of this initiative is to eliminate the unsportsmanlike behavior of banging the boards with sticks, or other objects as a means to celebrate the “big” hit. This is not a rule change! The spirit and intent of this rule is to eliminate unsportsmanlike behavior that is designed to “taunt” or “intimidate” an opponent through the celebration of an unnecessary or illegal body check. Simply banging the stick, or other object, against the boards while on the player’s bench is not a penalty. However, it is deemed to be unsportsmanlike conduct and should be penalized when done as a means of escalating dangerous and/or unnecessary physical play where there is no intent to legally gain possession of the puck. You can read the entire interpretation and the proper procedure for enforcement of this rule here.
Coaches are being instructed to teach proper competitive contact and body checking skills while players are being informed they will be held accountable for playing the game within the rules. Officials must do our part as outlined above in order for a successful culture change to take place. It is not going to happen overnight, but with renewed emphasis on proper skills and strict enforcement, the game will continue to prosper in a safer and more skilled environment for the current players and future generations.
Tag(s): Stripes Newsletter