Local minor hockey leaders weigh in on body checking debate
Local minor hockey leaders are voicing their opinions on Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador’s attempt to remove body checking from the bantam and midget age groups.
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At the annual general meeting for the sport’s governing body in this province in Gander June 13-15, a motion was made that would see checking removed from non-competitive hockey in the 13-17 age group.
Hitting would be left in the AAA bantam and major midget divisions.
HNL argued it would significantly cut down on injuries, namely concussions, in the game, and ensure the game emphasizes fun and safety. Those against countered removing checking would change the game.
The motion was narrowly defeated 34-27.
The move by HNL sparked some heated debate in all corners of the province. Some argued it would change the game, while others pointed to increasing the safety of the game.
Here in the Conception Bay North region, much of the conversation pointed to keeping body checking as a part of the game.
Wendy Penney is the president of CeeBees minor hockey and attended the meetings.
“I think people were ready and I think people were really passionate about it,” she said.
Prior to the meeting, Penney met with her board to discuss the upcoming motion. She also gathered the opinions of some coaches in the association in the bantam/midget age group. Using the information in front of them, the CeeBees voted against removing body checking from the game.
“The feedback from them was unanimous: 'don’t let them take this out,'” said Penney.
The president recognized there were pros and cons to the argument. One of the pros, Penney said, was improving player safety. Even though that brought up additional questions.
“Some of the issues they were bringing up, like there was a study done on concussions,” she noted. “Is it directly involved with body checking?
“Is it some other aspect of the game too? So, are we going to remove all of that?”
Penney said there was a difference in terminology used, with HNL flip-flopping between body checking and body contact when presenting their case.
“There was still a little bit of confusion about what the motion should have been,” she said.
Changing the game
Wade Oates is a coach at the bantam level with the Bay Arena Minor Hockey Association.
While he was not at the meetings, he left no doubt about how he would have voted.
“I would have voted to keep (body checking) in,” Oates said.
The coach took an interesting stance on the idea of removing body checking from minor hockey. Oates said it could be a detriment to team play.
“We might see more selfish play,” he said. “Some players will carry the puck more.”
Elaborating, Oates noted some players are more likely to move the puck if they feel they could be the victim of a thunderous body check.
Checking as a skill
There has been a lot of focus in recent years on the development of the skills of players. Coaches are instructed on the fine points of stick handling, passing and the art of running a practice.
“Our coaches go to these clinics … and I ask what goes on at these clinics, is checking a part of it? And, their answer is, ‘no, it’s not,” said Penney. “Education has to be a focus.”
“(HNL) should focus on teaching hitting as a skill,” Oates added.
A lot of time players below the highest levels spend their times head hunting, said Oates, and aiming for the big hit rather than using checking as it was intended, to separate player from puck.
“I think there could be more checking clinics,” said Oates.
Removing body checking from the game could have a negative effect on numbers of young athletes registering with associations. In a time when associations across Canada are seeing players leave the game for a variety of reasons, this could cause a further exodus.
“I think you’ll see a lot of people give up hockey,” said Oates.