All Eyes on Annual Congress as Pee Wee Checking Vote Looms

Previous Body Checking Posts: Part I: Should USA Hockey Ban Body Checking in Pee Wees? — Part II: Head Injuries and the Pee Wee Checking Debate — Part III: Pee Wee Checking Debate Renewed As Vote Nears

USA Hockey’s Annual Congress kicks off Wednesday in Colorado Springs, Colo. If you’re unfamiliar with Congress, it is a multi-functional event that brings together more than 500 USA Hockey volunteers, national staff, the executive board, athletes and vendors.

There are a series of meetings, panels, two awards dinners and most importantly, the Board of Directors Meeting on Saturday, June 11. It is at that meeting where the proposed rule to delay body checking from Pee Wee (12 & Under) to Bantam (14 & Under) will be voted on.

There is a strong feeling among USA Hockey brass that the rule will pass. There has been plenty of backlash. Most of that backlash has come in the comments section of blogs, YouTube videos and Facebook pages. There has not, however, been much backlash from anyone connected to hockey development professionally.

In fact, there has been an overwhelming show of support from some of hockey’s most influential voices. Even Mike Milbury, who notably once beat a fan with a shoe and has promoted toughness in hockey as a TV analyst , is on board. Brian Burke, the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the man that made the word “truculence” a part of the hockey fan’s vocabulary, is backing the rule change (.wmv file). College hockey coaches from across the country have also voiced their opinions (.wmv file) on this topic.

I was recently forwarded Doug Abrams’s post on the proposed rule change and why he supports the delay. Abrams comes with a hockey background, as both a player and youth coach for more than 40 years, and expertise in youth sports as a frequent lecturer on the topic. It’s hard to find a better voice on this important development than someone who has studied and dissected youth sports as a profession.

As Abrams accurately recalls, many of USA Hockey’s new rules are often met with skepticism and in some cases outrage, before becoming just another part of the game that no one thinks much about. He makes many more valid points, but in the interest of space I’ll merely link it as opposed to copying some excerpts. It’s a very interesting read, so I urge you to click the link.

There has been a fair amount of coverage from mainstream media and I read the most recent article with great interest.

Miguel Rodriguez, of the Buffalo News, recently wrote a very balanced feature gauging the thoughts of Buffalo-area youth hockey parents and coaches, while also speaking with USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer.

Many of the coaches Rodriguez talked to are against the rule change. Western New York youth hockey teams have the added pressure of playing along the Canadian border, therefore those coaches feel the need to keep up with their Ontario counterparts that introduce hitting at age 9. So it was intriguing to hear their thoughts, even if I didn’t agree with them.

Another interesting development that has recently been announced is that the Ontario Hockey Federation is banning body checking in all “house” leagues at every age level as of the 2011-12 season. All travel leagues, from 10 & Under on up, will keep body checking. Additionally, Hockey Canada will institute new “zero-tolerance” rules for contact to the head and neck area across all levels of hockey in the country.

Some have mentioned that USA Hockey should move to do something similarly to OHF’s new body-checking rules. However, as USA Hockey’s rule proposal is born out of player-development principles, in addition to safety issues, it would make little sense for USA Hockey to go down that same road. In regards to contact to the head, USA Hockey already has rules against it at all levels and there is talk of strengthening the enforcement of those rules.

On Sunday in Colorado Springs, the vote for the body checking rule proposal will be preceded by an open discussion amongst the voting members and executive board. There are going to be strong opinions on both sides of this debate. However, the only way this rule won’t pass is if someone on the dissenting side has any new evidence that trumps what USA Hockey has presented. We’ve seen very little opposition from the scientific, medical and professional hockey community, except this piece, most notably. If someone can present something that no one else has thought of yet, maybe it doesn’t pass. I just don’t see it happening.

The evidence in favor of the rule is near insurmountable. Additionally, the communications efforts from USA Hockey to get people on board have been somewhat aggressive and in many cases innovative. Some dissenters have viewed this as “ramming it down our throats.” To me, the efforts from USA Hockey are a direct display of just how passionately those behind the rule proposal feel this is an important step for our country to take in regards to player development and safety.

As this will be my final post on the topic prior to the vote, here is a summary of how I came to support the rule after initial skepticism here is, in order, what made me change my mind:

1. Based on research, the 11-year-old brain is unable to cognitively recognize a dangerous hit, and therefore is unable to protect him/herself properly.
2. A hockey player’s prime window of skill acquisition is 9-12 (.doc), based on cognitive research. Focusing more on the essential skills of hockey: passing, shooting and skating, could lead to developing a more skilled player.
3. The 11-year-old brain is more susceptible to concussion and takes longer to recover from head injuries. Combine that with the fact that 11-year-olds cannot anticipate a dangerous play, and the inability for that player to protect him/herself.
4. There are too many instances in which a Pee Wee player elects to hit as opposed to making the smart play by taking the puck. Sometimes it appears players are unaware there is even a puck on the ice. This is a bad habit that can develop into a worse one as the player gets older. Teaching smart ways to separate an opponent from the puck via increased body contact will lead to better habits in the long term.
5. The proposed rule includes the promotion of increased body contact at all age levels. In many instances, body contact, not checking, is the best way to separate an opponent from the puck. By taking out the blow ‘em up, intimidating hits, kids can focus on this key skill for playing good, smart defense.
6. Pee Wees in Alberta were three times as likely to suffer injury than in Quebec where checking is introduced at the Bantam age level. Combine that with the cognitive evidence and it’s easy to see why.
7. This is a chance to revolutionize hockey development and train our American players in a new way.
8. We know more about concussions today than we ever have, but it’s still an inexact science. Why put our 11- and 12-year-olds’ brains at risk unnecessarily?

So there you have it. If you haven’t checked them out yet, take a look at my previous posts linked above as each go much further in depth into why I support the rule change.

All that’s left now is the vote. I’ll have full coverage on Monday of the results and my thoughts. I also hope to get reaction from some of the folks at USA Hockey regardless of the outcome.

Want to voice your final thoughts on this topic? Leave them in the comments section.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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9 Responses to All Eyes on Annual Congress as Pee Wee Checking Vote Looms

  1. Jerry says:

    If the rule passes, and it should, what is USA Hockey going to do about all the second year Peewees who have already played checking now wanting to play up at Bantam. You know hockey parents, staying at Peewee and not checking they will feel that their player’s hockey development will be taking a step backward. What is the consensus on this?

    • Chris Peters says:

      I think that’s a very valid concern, Jerry. For one, I think accelerating players would be the wrong move, as it is in the majority of cases anyway. Very few players are advanced enough at age 12 to play Bantam hockey.

      Parents, coaches and players are going to have to first accept the rule, though it will be hard to embrace fully at first. If anything, the players that were checking this year and won’t be next year are going to have to reign it in, which should be a learning experience in itself. I feel that most of those players will discover they will make more effective plays with the more restrained style of play this new rule requires.

      The big hit often ignores the puck. By making smarter plays with focus on the puck, these players will learn to create turnovers more effectively and will likely find themselves with the puck on their stick more in return.

      It is going to be important for youth hockey organizations to stress patience with the parents of next year’s second-season Pee Wees. I don’t think anyone will put a ban on accelerating kids, but most Bantam coaches aren’t going to have room for a 12-year-old player that isn’t ready.

      • Anonymous says:

        As I have told all of my kids do not change the way you play. Keep your heads up and hit as part of the game rule change or not. Just because USA Hockey changes their rules doesn’t mean you have to change the game. You still have five penalties before you are out of the game. I have no problem with my kids continuing to hit cleaning as they would last year. I just hope new Pee Wees are taught to keep their heads up or it may be a very dangerous year.

      • Chris Peters says:

        “You still have five penalties before you are out of the game” — Great coaching…

        If you are really a coach, do your kids a favor and quit.

  2. johnny Mac says:

    In all my years of following hockey (41), I have seen few head injuries at the peewee level, but more and more as the players get older. Will the increased emphasis on skill at peewee promote skill over contact as the players develop into their junior years? Will junior and college coaches opt to take 4 lines of skilled players over 2 lines of skilled players and 2 lines of “big players?” Or will defensemen just keep getting bigger and bigger? Until this matter is dealt with at the top (NHL), in major junior and the USHL, the problem will never be resolved in youth hockey.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I coach at the peewee level and I will say that this proposed rule change is completely ridiculus. First of all I want to see the head injury statistics. Most head injuries that I have witnessed from body checking occur from boarding. So instead of castrating hockey teach and enforce boarding. The number 2 way that head injuries occur is during a trip where a player goes into the boards or the goal frame. This rule change won’t affect this at all. To solve this problem of so called head injuries which in my 8 years of coaching has been negligible is this. 1. Teach kids how to take a check. Very few kids are coached well this way. 2. Enforce boarding or even make it a 5 minute penalty. 3. get kids to buy better helmets many of these cheap helmets are worthless.
    So lets say these morons proposing the rule change get their way, now you have kids 15-20 pounds heavier, skating faster with “zero” checking experience. I wonder whats gonna happen to the little guys that have no experience taking checks from the big guys? They also won’t be looking for checks so you will have more blind sides.
    I have also coached football maybe we should ban contact there too? In wrestling we will just play the wii and simulate physical contact. This is more of the liberal democratic agenda thats killing our country. Bring the vote to Michigan where really hockey is played!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Who are you addressing?
    Do you really think that now it has passed that everyone is in agreement?
    You are either boasting or thowing it the faces of those who do not agree.
    This is coming from some one who supports the rule. (Good news) Try thinking about your wording before posting, it’s hard to back this up with out some one gloating.,

    • Chris Peters says:

      Just a little bit of sarcasm directed to the immediately preceding commenter. Nothing to gloat about because the rule changed. Implementation is where the greatest challenges lie. There’s a long way to go.

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