When you ask a 10 year old boy why he likes playing hockey, he will tell you it is fun. “Being with friends, working on a team and scoring goals is ‘sick’.” says Liam, who plays what is considered ‘Rep’ or ‘Tier’ 1 hockey. He may tell you of his heroes, Sydney Crosby and Steven Stamkos, and he may tell you of his dream of being in the NHL.
Over 500 000 children participate in hockey each year in Canada. Having fun, being with friends, and scoring ‘sick’ goals is part of the game for everyone. Making it to the NHL, however, is another story. Experts say that 1 in 4000 kids have a shot at a professional career. That works out to 0.025%.
What a fantastic Canadian tradition! Right? Wrong!
At the age of 11, Hockey Canada introduces body checking to the game.
Andrea Cuthbert’s son played Rep hockey and loved it until he was 11 and body checking was introduced. In 3 months he sustained 3 concussions. After spending hours researching the long term consequences of concussions, Andrea decided to pull her child from the Rep league. He now plays House league hockey where there is no body checking. While he is having fun because he is playing his favourite sport with friends, he misses being able to develop at a competitive level.
“I refuse to go to Rep games where kids are constantly lying listless on the ice due to an illegal check”, says Andrea. “I felt sick when watching one boy on our team get carted off the ice on a stretcher…they are just kids trying to have some fun and competition. Last year in our Pee Wee year we had 9 incidences of concussion on our team. We have to ask ourselves as parents, why are our kids in this – for fun and competition or to go the NHL?”
The Canadian Pediatric Society, the American Pediatric Association and the Mayo Clinic all recognize the dangers of body checking and the link to concussions and have made recommendations to have body checking removed from the Pee Wee (ages 11-12) level of play. USA Hockey has removed body checking from their Pee Wee age group.
According to Dr. Aubry, the International Ice Hockey Federations’ chief medical officer, “We’re exposing these kids to an increased risk of injury at an age where I think we should still be talking about skill development and having fun.”
It seems logical to mothers like Andrea and I, that the only way to come close to eliminating concussions in children who play hockey is to remove body checking. Sadly, however, this is not so obvious to Hockey Canada, the organization responsible for setting the rules. According to Hockey Canada’s Discussion on: Body Checking by Paul Carson the VP of Hockey Development, “…body checking in minor hockey is an extremely complex issue and simple answers are not possible.”
Apparently we have body checking in minor hockey so that the 0.01% of kids headed for a professional career in hockey have the necessary skills. Why do we have a minor hockey system designed for the uber-minority that may make it to the NHL instead of for the vast majority of children who want to play competitive hockey for the duration of their lifetime?
In the eloquent words of Trudy White-Matthews, yet another mother whose son suffered a concussion as a direct result of a body check in his Pee Wee year, “I truly fear for the safety of all players. My experience indicates the system fails the player in the instance when they most need to be protected. This is a serious breech of responsibility and accountability in my perspective. This is NOT an issue of being for or against body checking, this is a more serious issue of behaviour and outcomes by the stewards of minors.”
Safer Hockey in Canada is an organization formed by concerned parents. Just to be clear, we are not asking for our children to be ‘bubble wrapped’. We understand that hockey is a physical game–that is why our boys love it! We want them to continue to play the game they love and not have to hang up their skates due to childhood concussions.
We are petitioning Hockey Canada to remove body checking from the Pee Wee (11-12) and Bantam (13-14) levels of play. We are asking for your help. Please visit www.Facebook.com/SaferHockey and educate everyone on this issue by sharing the medical studies and the recommendations. Please share and sign our petition.
Most of all, please get people talking about how our boys are unnecessarily getting hurt!
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