Hockey Edmonton – the organization that runs all minor hockey in the city – voted to get rid of body checking at many levels of Bantam and Midget hockey.
The decision was made at the April 13 general meeting and it will come into effect for the 2016-2017 season.
“Our goal is to provide an environment – for athletes of all ability – in which they can develop their skills, compete and foster a love for the game that lasts for life,” Mark Doram, the president of Hockey Edmonton, said.
Scroll down to view the full recommendation that was voted on.
In short, unless they’re on a higher-tiered team, players up to age 17 won’t be allowed to body check anymore. Only Bantam and Midget AAA, AA, along with A and B (formerly Tiers 1 and 2) will still have body checking.
“This will allow athletes to be able to play the game in the Bantam and Midget environment in a competitive manner without the threat of body checking being present each and every time they go on the ice,” Dean Hengel from Hockey Edmonton said.
The rule change will impact more than 2,200 players.
“This is really important,” Don Voaklander, the director of the Injury Prevention Centre, said. “If you look at all ice hockey injuries, 75 per cent of hockey injuries that we find in Alberta that are reported to hospital are in that age group and that’s only 30 per cent of players.
“If you eliminate body checking for that large mass of recreational players aged 13 and over, there’s going to be a significant reduction in injuries.”
“It makes the game more fun for those players and it also frees up resources in our health system,” Voaklander said, “and shorter waits in emergency departments.”
Hockey Canada defines body checking as “a player’s attempt at gaining the advantage on the opponent with the use of the body. Body checking results when two opposing players collide on the ice skating in opposite directions or when positioning and angling allow the checker to use the force of the body to gain the advantage.”
“There’s been no evidence to suggest that starting players earlier protects them later on,” Voaklander said. “That’s why Hockey Canada made the rule change to take body checking out of Pee Wee hockey years ago.”
A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal by University of Calgary researcher Dr. Carolyn Emery, found that when body checking is introduced into Bantam hockey, there is no difference between overall injury rates or concussion, regardless of whether players have prior body checking experience in Pee Wee.
Both Jason McLean’s sons play hockey. He’s not thrilled with Hockey Edmonton’s decision.
“My understanding is there are already no-hitting leagues in the city right now. If people in Bantam level want to go into no-hitting league, why not just go into that? Why do they have to force it onto the majority of players?”
McLean’s oldest son was moving into Bantam and was looking forward – albeit a little anxiously – to experiencing some contact.
“Do you want to be waiting until they’re that big and that strong before you finally teach them how to hit? It could cause more injuries, would be the counter argument.”
WATCH: Starting next season, there will be no body checking at the community level of Edmonton hockey play. Laurel Gregory is joined by Dean Hengel, the group’s executive director, with the details.
A number of people sharing their comments on Global News’ social media pages are also openly opposed.
“Bad, bad decision,” Tyler Stolar wrote on the Global Edmonton Facebook page. “When these kids get to higher league/level and they have no idea how to give or receive a proper body check… more injuries.”
“Hockey Edmonton should not be doing anything in regards to rules like this,” Jarrod Sokul wrote. “It should be left up to Hockey Alberta and Hockey Canada.”
However, a few welcomed the decision.
“If your kid is playing community or anything below AA, he’s probably not making the NHL, so it makes sense to get rid of checking in lower-level leagues,” Matt Ma wrote.
“Great decision,” echoed Steve Lahaie. “Only kids that are AAA AA categories should have full contact. Brain is a precious thing.”
WATCH: Hockey Edmonton’s decision to ban body checking at many levels of Bantam and Midget hockey has become a lightning rod for debate on social media. With more on the reaction to the ban, here’s Emily Mertz.
Enrolment numbers have dropped off when players progress from the Pee Wee level to Bantam, when body checking used to be introduced.
Hockey Edmonton said enrolment for the 2015/2016 season was 1,376 in Pee Wee (1,236 boys and 140 girls) and 1,123 in Bantam (1,008 boys and 115 girls).
A report done by the Injury Prevention Centre found that between April 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015 there were 7,914 hockey-related emergency department visits in Alberta. Over half (53 per cent or 4,199 visits) were children and youth of minor hockey ages, between five and 17 years old.
The study found 15-year-olds had the highest percentage of injury ER visits (17.1 per cent). Upper-body and head/neck injuries were the most common (42 and 29 per cent, respectively).
“About 1,100 of those are serious injury visits, so concussions and fractures,” Voaklander said. “The bulk of those serious injuries – about 600 a year – are concussions.”
Scroll down to read the full report.
In 2013, 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.
In 2015, Hockey Edmonton proposed a non-body checking program at the Bantam level, where players are aged 13 and 14.
“Some young folks are scared on the ice,” Doram said in June 2015. “You get into Bantam and size is a factor. So, some of those kids would prefer no body contact.”
There are approximately 9,000 players and 2,800 coaches and staff members involved with Hockey Edmonton.