If you go to TSN.ca, you will see a blog post by Bob McKenzie discussing the issue of when body contact should be introduced to kids. He makes a lot of good points and I recommend reading his piece – http://tsn.ca/blogs/bob_mckenzie/?id=331558.
The consensus seems to be to introduce contact at a later age. The main reasons being that 1 – kids can develop their technical skills without having to learn or worry about contact and 2 – kids are more at risk at an earlier age. Then there are other extremists who say that hockey isn’t real until you allow body checking.
From my perspective, both sides are missing the boat on a critical factor. Keep in mind I played hockey at an amateur level and was not an elite level player. I am not a parent of a kid (that I know of), so I cant say I know what it likes to watch your own child get hit. I have, however, coached hockey for a long time and can offer some insight. I have coached Atom, Pee Wee, Bantam and Midget. AAA, AA, BB and A. Girls and Boys. Contact and non-contact. For me; if I was at this world hockey summit, I would have argued that the introduction of body contact should not be based on age, rather it should be based on the quality of the level.
I don’t have medical facts to support this claim, but I would venture to guess that most of the injuries sustained in contact hockey could be traced back to a lack of skill. Yes, some kids will be bigger than others, that’s always the case. But at the elite levels, the smaller players typically have exceptional speed and better balance to compensate for a lack of size; otherwise they wouldn’t be at the level. Watch any AA game at the Bantam level in Quebec (equivalent to AAA in most other places) and then watch a CC game (equivalent to A). You will notice that the higher the level, the less emphasis on hitting. Contact is a skill used to separate a man from the puck. The most skilled players at the highest levels understand that. The players at the lower levels are often either kids who would like to develop their skills but aren’t good enough to play with the elite players; and they are hunted by the goons who enjoy the physical aspect of the game.
My suggestion would be to allow contact in Pee Wee age (age 11-12) at the absolute highest level. At Bantam (age 13-14), contact at the 2 highest levels. At Midget, the 3 highest levels. This would allow for arguments on both sides to be addressed. There would be fewer injuries because it would only be introduced at the highest levels, and there would still be contact so kids can learn how to play the game “properly”.
About the Author
Written by Corey Krakower
I am the Director of NHL Content & Habs writer for ProSportsBlogging.com; I have spent 8 seasons behind the bench as a minor hockey coach; and I am the future GM of the Montreal Canadiens (according to my mom). I spend my days managing the Harrow Sports brand in my hometown of Montreal and I moonlight as a Hockey Advisor for Pi Athlete Management. Most importantly, I'll throw anyone under the bus for a laugh.