Let’s play a little game of “What if…”
Body checking was removed by Hockey Canada from all levels below bantam (ages 13-14) a couple of years ago.
Despite overwhelming evidence of injuries in body checking leagues, there were still protestations about it ruining the game, leaving kids ill-prepared, and so on.
Instead, an emphasis was placed on teaching kids the proper lead-up skills. The idea was that when they got to bantam body checking leagues, they’d at least have a foundation in proper skating techniques, stick checking skills and angling. To that end, coaches have been required to take the new Hockey Canada checking course to teach them how and what to teach kids. It’s a darn good course and worth every minute.
Nevertheless, there is still that jump from zero body checking in peewee to full checking in bantam. But what if body checking were allowed only in certain zones? As well, what if no open ice checks were allowed until a certain age?
For starters, USA Hockey is getting its arenas to paint an orange line about a metre from the boards all around the rink. Called the look-up line, it would act as a warning to players that when in orange, the boards loom. Protect yourself accordingly. It serves an additional, perhaps unintended, purpose. When you check someone who’s on the edge of the look-up line, that player is likely to fall dangerously into the boards without protection. However, when a player is inside the look-up line and alongside the boards, a clean body check is likely to be “cushioned” by the boards. In Canada, this line is being considered by the GTHL.
But what if we took body checking lines a bit further? What if we said body checking was only allowed inside each blueline, not behind the goal line and ONLY inside the look-up line? This could be for first year bantams, for instance, where it might be a transition phase from the non-body checking peewee level.
Is this a daft idea? Consider that, even with proper progressive teaching in checking skills from the age of novice, first year bantams still need to develop the confidence in how to check and be checked.
Thrusting them instantly into full checking mode just may be pushing many beyond what they’re prepared for. Would it apply to every level? Perhaps not, but it’d be interesting to see. The rule could be put in at lower level competitive midget leagues, too.
I can almost see eyes rolling. “This removes open ice checks, which are part of the game.” But are they so important in minor hockey?
“It’d be too complicated for officials to call.” But why, since checking would only be permitted in certain areas and they’d actually have less to watch.
“It’s not hockey.” Well, right, it’s not hockey as the pros or juniors play it. But our young teens are neither. If long term player development correctly identifies progressive coaching as per age and level, wouldn’t that hold true across the board?
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