Toronto parents launch petition to ban bodychecking in minor hockey

WATCH ABOVE: Some Toronto parents want bodychecking banned in minor hockey and have started a petition. Carey Marsden reports.

TORONTO — Bodychecking in minor hockey has often caused debate, and a group of Toronto hockey parents have started a petition to see it banned.

“I think that there’s a lot of changes that need to happen in minor hockey,” said Yvonne Harding, one of the “Parents for Safe Hockey” behind the petition.

“It’s minor hockey,” said Harding. “It’s not mini-NHL, which I think is a mindset that needs to change out there.”

Harding is a mother of three teenagers. Her middle son, who is 13, has suffered from two concussions. He is now out of contact hockey for the rest of the season.

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“The hardest part is trying to get them to understand that they’re just not themselves. They are tired. They’re disengaged. They are sad too because you just had to pull them out of stuff.”

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Harding and other parents felt that the game was getting “nastier.” She said the size and weight of players on any given team can vary drastically, increasing risk for smaller participants.

“This is not about bubble wrapping your children. It’s about taking unnecessary risk and creating an environment.”

Dr. Charles Tator, a Neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital, agrees. He sits on the board for Parachute Canada, the country’s main prevention agency. He said he believes bodychecking should be banned below the age of 16.

“Those are important years for the brain to develop normally for a full life,” said Dr. Tator. “To have it bashed around by bodychecking is just not a good idea.”

“The brain has billion of cells and those cells are all connected in very precise ways.  During adolescence a lot of those connections are being made,” said Dr. Tator.  “So if you have repeated concussions, that means those connections aren’t going to be made. Some people with multiple concussions will have life long consequences.”

If bodychecking is banned from minor hockey in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, teams would not be able to play against checking teams outside of the GTHL.

Graham Lloyd has coached both select and competitive hockey teams. He said there are options already out there for parents and players.

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READ MORE: Bodychecking rules don’t help limit concussions in the NHL, Canadian research suggests

“There is now a good viable league of skilled players of non-contact,” said Lloyd. “And there should be be leagues with contact. Eliminating it ignores our players that actually enjoy it and do it well.”

Lloyd said the focus should be on making sure checking is taught properly.

“I think there should be more focus on how to receive a hit. You protect your body from a hit,” said Lloyd.  “You learn how to be hit.”

Hockey Canada banned bodychecking in Peewee hockey in 2013, with the rule going into effect for the 2013/2014 season.

Scott Oakman, executive director of the GTHL, said the league looked to ban bodychecking at the A-level for the 2014/2015 season, but that motion was not successful. Oakman said a committee is in place now and that a ban is still being considered.

“I think there’s room to continue to study taking it out of other levels where its not necessary, where its not a skill that a player is going to need as they move on in life,” said Oakman.  “Certainly at the most elite levels where players may be moving on to play junior hockey or university hockey where they may need to have that skill, it’s important to keep it in the game.”

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Harding said she wants parents to think long-term. She argues that the percentage of kids that will actually make it to the NHL is very small, and that the risk for all involved should take priority.

“When you see your child flying into the boards and watch them just crumple up…it takes your breath away,” she said.  “You just think about all the things they won’t be able to do. You have to prevent this because it doesn’t stop once they leave the ice.”

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