skip navigation

Game On -- With Changes

By USA Hockey, 09/21/21, 9:45PM MDT


Discussing the 2021-22 playing rule changes and the impact on the youth level

Every four years we can count on a couple of things: the Olympic Winter Games (ideally with one or both teams bringing home hardware) and USA Hockey rule changes.

Following the rule change process that began in Fall of 2020, during the 2021 USA Hockey Annual Congress, the Board of Directors voted the new playing rules into place that will affect the 2021-22 through 2024-25 seasons.

Some rule changes were simple housekeeping updates, while others work to enforce greater player accountability for safety and encourage skill development in all athletes.

ADM Manager Scott Paluch and Doug Plocki, Youth Hockey Director for Washington Little Caps, see firsthand how rule changes, like the continued emphasizing of Body Checking Standard of Play and offsides, are and will impact the youth game.

Changing the culture
No surprise, the forefront of every rule change is to make the game better. With that comes a shift in the culture of the game, and a shift in focus.

“Rules of the game, as far as player evaluation, today’s game is heavy on skills of the game and certainly, more than ever, heavy on the decision making and awareness in our game,” explains Paluch.  “I think the players today at the highest level are so smart and so quick with their decisions, and I think with these rules, especially when you’re talking offsides and icing, plenty of players--not just the puck carrier but more importantly the players away from the puck-- are given more opportunities where they have to make decisions. Making decisions quicker, under duress and in more supporting roles.

“Specifically, with the offsides, which I think has been in my mind when you really look at what has to happen with the players on the ice, I love that, No. 1 the layer in the zone when the puck comes over the blue line, now all the players have to be back and back pressure quicker. There’s no safety valve. They have to be in a position to pursue the puck back in back pressure early or get in a position of support. If the idea is to soft chip or get in the zone you have to earn your ice or earn your play.

“I love what it’s doing for the players away from the puck and the players with the puck having to make decisions.”

Paluch says how far today’s game has come in skills and speed is a credit to the work the rule change committee and USA Hockey has done in the past to get to this level. A level of success he sees only continuing to rise and rule changes make for a better and better game"

“One thing that I’ve noticed now, and even prior to the actual declaration, this is a credit to the leaders in the field, emphasis in understanding of the puck the last 4, 5, 6 years. People are starting to figure out the importance of the puck and possession of the puck and allow players make plays with the puck. A lot of what has gone in to trying to figure out what rules fit today’s game, I think a lot of it has to do with the way the game has changed all over the world.  There’s an emphasis on puck possession, making plays and an emphasis on actual, physical contact, and compete of the play being made around the effort to win the puck.

“All players want the puck and to make a play with it. Being strong at the area of contact with the emphasis of separate and combine that with decision making, these rule changes make the youth game and on up better.

Are the new rules going to ‘ruin careers’?
As we’ve come to learn, and almost expect, rule changes often come with plenty of opposition -- especially when it pertains to body checking.

Contrary to popular parent belief, we’re not doing this to ruin the game. In fact, quite the opposite. Still, the negativity follows the changes by way of claims that a kid will quit hockey.

“In my experience I’ve never heard a player I’m quitting because of rule change or parents,” said Plocki who has 25 years of coaching under his belt. “There’s certainly griping for sure. But I don’t see if rising from the level of leaving the game because of changes.

“The kids want to have fun, and as long as they’re competing, they’re going to have fun. So, if your practices are designed around elements of competition the kids being forced to make decision being challenged, they’re going to have fun.”

“Players can adapt, and they just want to play the game. Whatever the rules are, they don’t care. It’s our job as coaches to design our practices to teach them those rules and to play with those rules and make sure they’re having as much fun as possible.”

Because let’s not forget, along with development FUN is the aim of the game.