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Deflections - Cross Ice - Part 1: IP, then Novice

 

In a country where any minute change to our beloved game is looked upon with suspicion, Hockey Canada’s recent pronouncement that cross ice games are now to be mandated in the Initiation Program would seem to be grounds for a parliamentary investigation. As in, good grief, how will my six-year-old ever be ready for full ice games in novice!? The shame of it all!

The answer is simple: According to Hockey Canada president Tom Renney, cross ice hockey will also become mandatory in 2018-19 in novice. While this hasn’t been much of a secret around branch meetings, it became public when he said so on Ottawa radio station TSN 1200’s Grassroots: The minor hockey show on March 18. In other words, those IP children will transition next year from their cross ice surfaces to similar rink sizes in the subsequent two years of novice.

Full disclosure: I’m co-host of that show and we’d been trying since November to get Renney on the air to discuss this very point. We already knew he was fully on board with adapting the game to the kids for all the obvious reasons. He added one more: the retention of players was a prime concern as was attracting new ones if the game itself was more appealing. Reducing the rink size and adding other changes would do it, he felt.

Of course, he’s right but he’s far from the first to discuss the idea. However, the fact that Hockey Canada is mandating something like this is a major step forward for development, regardless of whether or not it’s already happened elsewhere, such as in Europe, the U.S., B.C., Saskatchewan and Quebec. For most of the last 30 years, there’s been nary a word from our governing body to address discrepancies in how the game is played for children versus teens or adults. Yes, there have been changes in coaching clinic content and certification as well as the addition of the Respect in Sport program and the removal of bodychecking below bantam. 

But not since the rollout of the IP in the mid 1980s has Hockey Canada stood tall and stated it would address a key development issue. The organization has steadfastly maintained that its 13 branches have always had considerable autonomy as to how they ran their programs, including development. This was fine, until it wasn’t when associations across the land went off half-cocked by allowing children who can’t spell “hockey” to play full ice games like the pros. The only plausible solution was for Hockey Canada to mandate cross ice in IP and then novice the following year.

In other words, the game’s leaders have done the right thing for its youngest participants.

Next week in Cross Ice - Part 2: It’s not just the rink.

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