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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
Even with almost 50 years of involvement in hockey, you can’t plan for the current state of the world and the impact coronavirus has had on our game. I think it is safe to say that nothing prepares you for the changes that have taken place in our daily lives and the uncertainty of when things might return to normal. Or in this case, what will become the new “normal.”
Our expertise is hockey, so what we’ll address in this piece: the impact of the global pandemic on our game and how likely it will affect our game in the immediate future.
USA Hockey continues to post information on COVID-19 on the main website. These updates keep our membership informed of specific programs and the changing safety recommendations that will be in place when hockey returns. Be sure to check back regularly for updates and other hockey information.
On the officiating front, much of what we are able to do from a program standpoint is connected to player events like national tournaments and player development camps. As you know, the national tournaments (along with the March, April and May IIHF World Championship events) were cancelled. The Officiating Program then canceled our two instructor training programs that were planned for late April and early May in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Colorado Springs, Colo.
At this time, details for any potential summer development camps are still being determined. On the player side, several camps we are connected to were cancelled, and the few camps that are still in planning have been dramatically downsized. The Officiating Program continues to monitor the decisions made for players and will take advantage of any opportunity we have to salvage our summer camp program and maximize participation.
The good news is, we are confident we will have a 2020-21 season. All indications show no reason to delay registration. It will open as scheduled on or around May 26, followed by the open book exams and online seminar curriculum on June 1.
SafeSport Training (required for anyone born in the year 2003 or earlier) and background screening (learn about the new national level screening program in the Q & A section) will also be available to complete at that time. If COVID-19 still has things slowed down in early June, it would be an ideal time to get these requirements completed.
The biggest unknown will be the timing in which we will be able to conduct seminars. The vast majority of rinks are currently closed, and many of them took this opportunity to remove ice to save operating costs and do maintenance. There is now doubt they will be prepared to quickly ramp up once they are allowed to do so, but as with most everything right now, the timing is uncertain. As a result, some of the earlier seminars may be pushed back a few weeks. The District Referees-in-Chief will secure ice times and facilities so we can provide seminar dates and locations as quickly as possible. We are also encouraging our instructors to think outside the box by providing some weeknight seminar options, and to look at other ways to best meet the needs of our members.
The Advanced Officiating Symposium, scheduled for Providence, R.I. in late July, is still going to plan. We will continue to monitor the situation, including local restrictions and travel advisories in the coming weeks, and we will announce any changes in advance to allow for alterations to travel arrangements. Click here for up-to-date information or to reserve your seat at the 2020 Advanced Officiating Symposium.
These are difficult times for everyone, and although our hockey family is important to us, it is a small fraction of the big picture that is impacting our daily lives. To quote Andy Dufresne in his letter for Red that he left under the big oak tree in The Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
We hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. We hope the coronavirus is conquered with minimal loss of lives and a return to a prosperous normal as soon as possible. We hope your passion for the game of hockey will only grow as a result of its absence. We hope we are back on the ice in the coming months and that the 2020-21 season will be our best yet.
Thank you for your continued support of USA Hockey and don’t hesitate to contact us if there is anything we can do to make your hockey experience a better one. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and be prepared to be back on the ice soon.
In order to comply with new requirements from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), USA Hockey will be implementing a national level background screening program. This program will replace all USAH Affiliate coordinated background screen programs.
Why must officials be screened?
Per USA Hockey and USOPC policy, all coaches, officials, board members, employees, volunteers, billets and anyone else who will have regular contact with, or authority over, minor athletes are required to submit a background screen before any contact with minor athletes.
Who is required to be screened?
Officials who are 18 years-old (or older) prior to June 1 of the current year.
Any official, 18 years-old (or older) without a completed valid background screen (national or USAH Affiliate coordinated) after April 1, 2019.
All national background screens are valid for two seasons, and starting on June 1, 2020 a national background screen must be completed and in good standing before receiving an officiating card and crest.
What are the timelines for launching the national background screen program?
Beginning on April 1, 2020, background screening will be conducted by our national background screen vendor, National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI), and information on background screening will be included following your registration.
As of March 22, 2020, applicants will no longer be able to submit new USA Hockey background screens through USAH Affiliate vendors, and will not be able to submit new screens through NCSI until April 1, 2020.
If you were screened after April 1, 2019 for the 2019-20 season, your screen is valid for the 2020-21 season, and you will not need to be screened under the new system until prior to the 2021-22 season. If your most recent screen is from prior to April 1, 2019, you will need to be screened under the new system, after April 1, 2020, in order to participate in the upcoming season.
All new screens submitted through the new NCSI national screening program after April 1, 2020 will be valid for two seasons. For example, a screen submitted and approved on April 15, 2020 will be valid through the end of the 2021-22 season, which is August 31, 2022.
How can members complete their required background screen?
A link to submit for screening will be included in your membership registration confirmation email and posted in the drop-down menu under the OFFICIALS tab at USAHockey.com.
Background screens through NCSI under the national program will cost $30 for all domestic screens. For international screens (members who have lived outside of the U.S. for six consecutive months in any one county during the past 7 years) the flat rate fee is $150. If that country is solely Canada, the flat rate fee is $75.
Where can members go with questions about the national background screen program?
Please refer to the USA Hockey Background Screen webpage at USAHockey.com.
Tag(s): Body-Checking Rule