Kudos to GTHL for trying to further eliminate checking injuries

Ken Campbell
Bodychecking

The largest minor hockey association in the world wants to further eliminate bodychecking – and the injuries that come with it – and it hopes to do so as early as next season. And kudos to the Greater Toronto Hockey League for having the foresight and courage to take this step.

The GTHL announced last Friday that it is conducting a survey to gauge interest in having bodychecking removed from all levels of ‘A’ hockey. Hockey Canada has already banned checking from all levels of hockey below bantam – which means no players in Canada are checking until at least the age of 13 – so this would cover players playing in the bantam (13 and 14 years old) and midget (15, 16 and 17 years old) age groups.

Anyone can fill out the survey by going to https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/GTHLBodycheckingsurvey2014 and the league hopes to get about 40,000 responses. The survey is not binding, but will be presented as evidence if the rules committee of the GTHL chooses to bring the matter to league members for a vote at the annual meeting in June.

In fact, the GTHL did a similar survey last year and GTHL executive director Scott Oakman said about 60 percent of respondents favored removing bodychecking from ‘A’ hockey and nothing would lead him to believe the results of this survey will be much different. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the minor hockey system in Ontario, ‘A’ represents the lowest stream of competitive hockey in the province. There are house leagues and Select (house league all-star) where there is no body contact at any age level. The competitive stream consists of ‘A’, ‘AA’ and ‘AAA’ hockey, with the truly elite players playing at the ‘AAA’ level.

And that’s why a move to take hitting out of ‘A’ hockey makes so much sense. While there are kids who do sometimes come out of nowhere as late bloomers, generally speaking if a player is playing ‘A’ hockey at the bantam level, “the likelihood of him needing to learn to bodycheck for the rest of his career is slim to none,” according to Oakman.

Personally, I would like to see bodychecking taken out of the game at all levels below ‘AAA’, but this is a good starting point. The one concern I have with introducing bodychecking at the bantam level is that now kids are not hitting until they are 13 years old. Lots of things are happening at that age in terms of mental and physical development and the variance in terms of the size and strength of players is still enormous in many cases. Let’s face it. Kids that age are just starting to feel their oats and some of them are bound to be more reckless in their approach to physical hockey. So by taking it out of the lowest competitive stream, the GTHL will be able to still give a competitive level of hockey to those players who don’t want body contact and cater to those who do by giving them the opportunity at the ‘AA’ and ‘AAA’ levels.

Oakman said research has shown that regardless of what age bodychecking is introduced, players are three or four more likely to get injured, whether it’s at nine years old or 13. So why expose players who likely have no future in anything beyond minor hockey to preventable injuries?

It’s important to put this into context. This season, there were a total of 86 ‘A’ teams in the GTHL at the bantam and midget levels. Taking into account a roster of 15 players per team, that would mean that somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,290 additional players would be subject to no body contact at those levels of hockey. That still leaves plenty of room for those who want to hit, since there were a total of 101 ‘AA’ and ‘AAA’ teams at the bantam and midget levels, meaning there would still be about 1,515 spots for kids between the ages of 13 and 17 who still want body contact.

It sounds like a great compromise that makes a lot of sense.