Canada suddenly is focused on hockey with youth workouts and minor-level training camps opening this week. As least for kids, the game will take on a new look with sport's governing body, Hockey Canada, banning body checking for peewee level or kids below age 13. That is akin to Pop Warner Football making tackling illegal for kids 12 and under.
A Vancouver Sun columnist wrote the move was not enough, criticizing minor hockey's "archaic" attitudes about violence that show the game needs to be changed in Canada.
Look, you already have a serious retention problem. Precise numbers are scarce -- and one can see why hockey officialdom wouldn't want to bandy them about. But 2012 research in Ontario found that over the five years from 2005-2010, almost 27 per cent of minor hockey players quit the game.
Similar research in Alberta reported in 2012 that "one-third of all minor hockey players do not return to competition after one year, and the highest rate of attrition was found to occur around the Bantam level" where bodychecking gets more intense.
A recent study by Bauer Hockey and Hockey Canada finds that one key barrier is parents' perception that it's not a safe game for their kids to play, based on their concern about concussion and a belief that the game promotes violent behaviour. And as reported here Wednesday, Hockey Canada's internal research corroborates this.
The temptation is to blame namby-pamby do-gooders, wussy bleeding-heart columnists, sissy players and so on. But consider the possibility that the problem is minor hockey and its entrenched attitudes, not everyone else.
When you are getting headlines in the Canadian Medical Association Journal like the one last year that seriously asked "Hockey concussion: Is it child abuse?" and the Canadian Paediatric Society advocating a radical rethinking of the age and level of play at which boys are permitted to begin bodychecking -- the American Academy of Pediatrics has urged since 2000 that it be banned for all players under 15 -- you need to pay close attention.
Meanwhile, the London (Ontario) Community News showed how parents of youth hockey players in that city are getting serious about concussions.
The WLMHA's rule regarding head injuries is when in doubt, take the player out. The injured player can't come back to the ice until returning to the rink with a doctor's note.
The rule is no doubt a good one, but the steps taken Saturday and Sunday help the doctors treating a possible head-hurt player.
"My son is 10 years old and he plays hockey. When he was six years old he was at a pool party and he slipped and hit his head on the cement and we took him to the hospital. They administered the SCAT test," Shaun Smith, WLMHA vice-president of house league hockey. "(The doctor) was measuring this, but there was no baseline to compare it to. At the assessment the doctor turned to me and said, 'Maybe he suffered a head injury, maybe he didn't. I don't know.' "
Smith's son was taken out of school and didn't participate in activities like watching TV for a week to be on the safe side.
-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor