Decision is In: Body Checking Delayed to Bantam Age Level

The hottest topic since USA Hockey’s winter meetings in January was what USA Hockey calls its Progressive Checking Skills Development Program. The program is highlighted by increased body contact at all age levels of hockey, but the part that has raised a big hullabaloo was the fact that body checking would not be allowed until the Bantam age level.

At Saturday morning’s Board of Directors Meetings, the Progressive Checking Skills Development Program, also known as Rule 94b, passed with 88% approval. Beginning in the 2011-12 season, full body checking will be prohibited at the Pee Wee level.

The rule also covers tightening the standards of play for intimidating hits at the legal checking age-levels (Bantam and above). In addition, USA Hockey passed rules that “prohibit any check that comes in contact with the head or neck,” at all levels of amateur hockey in the U.S.

The success of the new rules ultimately will be decided at the grassroots level. The people who are in charge of determining the player development principles for our country have spoken and the volunteer base who makes the final call accepted the rule in a landslide. I think the 88% approval tells everything you need to know about how strongly USA Hockey and its Board of Directors feel about this.

Now that the new checking rules have passed, the real work begins in implementation.

USA Hockey will not let the volunteer base go at it alone. New age-specific coaching modules will be required for registered coaches to complete with emphasis on the new rules and standards of play. Referees will receive annual education on the standards of play and points of emphasis.

There will be a lot on the coaches’ shoulders to make this thing work.

Coaches will be required to teach body checking, both giving and receiving hits, in practice at the Pee Wee level. According to Dr. Mike Stuart, and something that should come as little surprise, the incidence of injury in practice is “dramatically lower.” Despite the inability to use checking in a game, a year or two’s worth of checking drills, as opposed to some hastily learned in a checking clinic, will better prepare Pee Wees for the transition to Bantam.

As for the players going from Squirt to Pee Wee, little will change. The kids who will enter their second year of Pee Wee hockey will have an adjustment to make, but being just one year removed from no check, it likely won’t be as difficult as it sounds.

Meanwhile, during games, players will have the opportunity to operate without fear of getting plastered. Expect to see 11- and 12-year-old players making more confident decisions with the puck in open ice and heading into the corners hard. At that age, they are just learning how to play. They will continue to develop good habits before heading into the more physical play in Bantam hockey.

We shouldn’t expect people who were unhappy about the rules to be on board right away. Some may never like it. However, the decision has been made and that’s the way it will be, at least for now. USA Hockey plans to study and track the progress of what this rule is doing and report on its findings at a later time.

Until then, we’re going to have to reserve judgment. So those in opposition don’t have to change their minds, but they’re going to have to swallow their pride and embrace it.

The adults can’t let their opinions or feelings affect the players. After all, the whole purpose of this rule is to benefit the kids.

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
Part IV: All Eyes on Annual Congress as Pee Wee Checking Vote Looms

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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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