EDMONTON – Two years ago, after extensive research on injuries, Hockey Alberta eliminated body checking at the Pee Wee level. The governing body for hockey in the province felt that player safety was the foundation for this decision. The idea was to also promote skill development and attract more players. Hockey Canada quickly followed the lead and dropped body checking from Pee Wee programs across the country. Pee Wee players are 11 and 12 years old.
The non-body checking issue was a contentious one at the start, but the fall-out has seemingly faded. Which is why Hockey Edmonton is proposing a non-body checking program at the Bantam level, where players are aged 13 and 14.
“The Board has decided to run two streams side by side this year, one will be full contact, the other will be no contact,” said Mark Doram, Hockey Edmonton President.
Hockey Edmonton believes some players graduating from Pee Wee would like to develop their skills and retain their passion for the game in a non-body checking format. Plus, there are some returning Bantam players who have expressed interest in non-body checking hockey.
“We have done surveys, and the surveys have come back where some of them have turned 60 (percent) no body contact, 40 (percent) contact. Some have come back 50-50. So it’s really hard to say what we’re going to see here in the next month, two months,” explained Doram.
Hockey Edmonton is encouraging Bantam-aged players to register as quickly as possible and indicate a program preference – whether it’s body checking, or non-body checking.
“It gives more choice,” Doram said. “Some, young folks are scared on the ice. You get into Bantam and size is a factor. So some of those kids would prefer no body contact.”
If player interest is sufficient, Hockey Edmonton would introduce the non-body checking program at the Bantam level this fall.
“Numbers. That’s the big thing. How many people want no body contact, how many people want body contact and the tiering will make a big decision on things too.”
Hockey Edmonton doesn’t want to limit this program to the lower tiers. It would be open to players at higher levels and abilities.
“Some hockey organizations have gone one, two, three (tier) body contact and then four (tier) down, no body contact. But the Board of Hockey Edmonton felt that it was good to give people a choice,” said Doram.
The number of practices and games for a non-body checking program would be identical to the body checking program and subsequently, the cost would be the same. The Edmonton Recreational Hockey League is also an option. But if a player can’t find a program to his or her liking – registration fees will be refunded.