Science? Check✓

Today, Hockey Alberta's science, or its marketing instincts, finally caught up to common sense as the organization announced, come fall, bodychecking will be illegal in peewee hockey.

A comprehensive study of concussion rates conducted by the University of Calgary was highlighted and celebrated as the impetus for the policy change. So, congratulations and thank you to the academics involved. But you also get the sense this wasn't just a triumph for post-secondary research. It was also driven by the need to retain young athletes in the sport and the need to keep lawsuits away.

But whatever the real motivation, it's a good move. It's good to remove hitting in an age group characterized by wild discrepancies in skill and body size and ability to hurt a fellow hockey player.

And it's a good move because it runs counter to the cruel streak in some hockey parents. (Trust me, you don't know who you are!) They'll counter today's move by saying things like: you gotta learn to give a hit and take a hit right from the beginning. And: hitting is part of the game. And: it's not figure skating. And some version of this is Canada. In these and other arguments, these sportsmanship deep thinkers demonstrate not a love of the game, but an obsession with the NHL and its marketing engine.

It troubles me that it has taken this long to remove bodychecking from peewee hockey. And that it took brilliant research to coax some movement on the issue.

I remember coaching a peewee game in Beaumont where a very talented forward, himself the product of natural skill, a drive to stand out, and a driving father, crushed an opposing defenceman into the boards on a violent but clean, as the then-rules defined the move, bodycheck. Full speed on the forecheck. Tattooed. It was ugly. He could have held up. He heard another voice.

What was most troubling was the reaction of the father, who made it clear he would have none of my contention that a clean check wasn't always the right check if a player of lesser talent was in a vulnerable position. Bullshit, I was told. Don't tell my son to hold up. That's too confusing. That makes him less of a player. He has a future. There was no concern for the opposing defenceman.

Why is hitting allowed in the low levels of minor hockey? Really? All of the talk about its being part of the game blah blah blah is just that. Sound. Hitting is kept in minor hockey so that players who show potential to make it in the game can develop their skills at a young age. They won't have a chance to make junior or get a scholarship or make the NHL if they can't crush someone legally.

I met a lot of the opposite opinion in my years coaching minor hockey. They were wrong then, they are wrong now. Good move, Hockey Alberta.

It's just too bad we need science to tell us what we know in our hearts. Some of our hearts. 


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