No hitting until bantam reduces player injuries

Kids aged 11 to 12 years old have a three-fold risk for game-related injuries if playing in a hockey league that allows hitting compared to league’s that don’t.

Kids aged 11 to 12 years old have a three-fold risk for game-related injuries if playing in a hockey league that allows hitting compared to league’s that don’t.

That information was provided by a study completed by University of Calgary physiotherapist Carolyn Emery, who conducted the study during the 2007-08 peewee season with players in Alberta and Quebec.

“These findings may have important implications for policy decisions related to body checking in youth ice hockey,” wrote Emery in her conclusion. “The public health implications associated with injury in pee wee hockey in which body checking is permitted are significant. Future research should compare the injury and concussion risk in the next age group of play (bantam, ages 13 to 14 years), in which players in one cohort will have two years of body checking experience prior to bantam participation. This research can inform the development and rigorous evaluation of prevention strategies to reduce the risk of injury in this population of youth ice hockey participants.”

Emery was in Penticton on the weekend as Hockey BC had its annual general meeting and was part of the presentation of promoting safety in the game. While presenting her findings, she stated that Canadian data shows that hockey injuries account for 10 per cent of all youth sports injuries. Body checking has been associated with 45 to 86 per cent among injuries.

“Looking at the most elite peewee players, these are kids playing divisions 1 to 3, they have a three-fold rate of risk than the kids that are playing the lower levels,” said Emery.

Bruce Judd, president of Penticton Minor Hockey Association and Larry Jeeves, president of the Okanagan Mainline Amateur Hockey Association, felt Emery’s data provided important information.

“I thought the doctor was very informative and teaching us the facts at the age of 11 to 13 shouldn’t be having body checking,” said Judd. “The results are Penticton and other associations in the Okanagan should definitely start to believe in what she’s saying.”

Judd said the concern from local coaches has never been addressed or asked or instructed to basically not have body checking versus having it. Judd said it falls on the association, including himself and his directors to have that decision made. Judd intends to speak with his coach coordinator and get coaches together to see where their beliefs are.

“Our members that were there were quite astonished at the numbers difference and it’s certainly a compelling argument for holding it back until bantam,” added Jeeves.

OMAHA regulations allow body checking in peewee, bantam and midget levels. Three or four years ago it was brought in by Princeton, who has a situation with not enough players for rep teams but they still wanted to maintain a body checking element to their games.

“However, the league that they would play in, none of their associations wanted body checking — South Okanagan, Penticton, Summerland, Westside and Merritt,” he said.

Jeeves said this year, they have opted out of that going to all non-body checking, though at the rep level it has to be included at peewee, bantam and midget on the male side.

“If we don’t in OMAHA when we go to provincials, we’re putting our kids at risk,” he said. “Peewee, bantam and midget at rep level in male hockey have hitting.”

OMAHA members will meet in September and Jeeves intends to ask for their feelings on eliminating it in the association for 2012-13.

Paul Carson, vice-president, hockey development for Hockey Canada, said first and foremost, Hockey Canada’s responsibility is to be aware of all research and understand the implications of that research and how it impacts on the way the game is managed and administered.

“The safety of young participants is at the forefront of the administration of the game,” he said. “All that info is important and is reviewed on a regular basis by our organization.”

Asked if Hockey Canada will consider delaying hitting until the bantam level, Carson said, “one of the dilemma’s that you have is that when there is no body checking in hockey, players are not being taught how to check.”