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#HockeyIsBack...and so is the Declaration of Safety, Fair-Play and Respect

By USA Hockey, 09/03/20, 3:45PM MDT


Hockey is back! As more teams and players get back on to the ice, we want to again address the importance of USA Hockey’s Declaration of Safety, Fair Play and Respect. Here’s a quick recap of the latest initiative with input from Scott Zelkin, manager of the junior officiating development program; Kenny Rausch, director of youth hockey; Matt Leaf, director of the officiating program; and Keith Barrett, vice president and chairman of the USA Hockey Youth Council.

What is the Declaration of Player Safety, Fair Play and Respect
Beginning with the 2019-20 Season, USA Hockey launched the "Declaration of Player Safety, Fair-Play & Respect" initiative to improve player safety and overall competition. Its emphasis directs coaches to teach proper body contact and respect for an opponent's safety when executing a body-check. Officials are also required to hold players accountable when they execute dangerous contact.

What is the goal?
“We want to make kids better people and better hockey players,” explains Rausch. “On the skill development side of it, with the ADM, we’re giving our players more skill and hockey sense. Proper body contact is also a skill to be developed, just like any other hockey skill.

“What we found with the culture that was existing, players, coaches and parents were celebrating the wrong things. They were celebrating the big hits instead of the playmaking. We want the game physical and hard; we just don’t want bad hits and kids getting hurt. That’s not why they signed up to play hockey.”

Barrett further points to how the culture of youth hockey was drifting from a focus on development when it came to big hits.

“It was over a number of years that we had seen a level of big hits, blow up hits, not taking the puck but taking the body. That culture was hanging around,” he said. “When one of those hits would happen, it was usually followed with cheering and stick banging and really raised the whole level of the chippiness of the game.

“At the same time, the Mayo Clinic and other medical journals across the country, showed body contact and head contact should not occur in 15-year-olds and younger, so the youth council started digging into it. We wanted to take that and look at making the game safer and refocused on development, so we put together a small committee to look at the current playing rules.”

How did it get implemented?
“It started with the subcommittee putting together the document, principles and the concepts that went into the declaration,” said Leaf. “That was fine-tuned right up until June 2019 when it was presented to our board of directors for adoption and implementation. It was a unanimous vote to adopt and move forward with it. That put us in a position to start developing resources and video clips from a variety of different levels.”

How does it directly impact officials?
“There were no real rule changes with the Declaration. Ultimately, it was really just spreading awareness and establishing expectations as it relates to proper enforcement of the current rules. That’s not only on the officiating side, but on the coaching side as far as teaching the skills and establishing expectations to hold players accountable on how to play the game the right way,” said Leaf.

What can we expect this season in relation to the Declaration?
“Going into this season you’re going to see an emphasis for change. However, we want to reemphasize that we understand that change, especially culture change, takes time,” said Leaf. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but USA Hockey as an organization is fully committed to this and look forward to making additional progress this year.”

For more information, watch the E.9 Declaration of Player Safety episode of USA Hockey Officiating ZoomCasts