World’s largest minor hockey league takes on hitting, finances

Ken Campbell
bodychecking photo

The biggest minor hockey league in the world will likely begin to progressively eliminate bodychecking at all age levels of its lowest elite age group by the 2015-16 season. All of which means players who play at the ‘A’ level of the Greater Toronto Hockey League will be able to play a reasonably high level of competitive hockey without worrying about body contact.

The GTHL recently conducted an expansive survey on the matter asking players, coaches and officials whether they wanted bodychecking removed from all age levels of ‘A’ hockey and 64.3 percent of the 4,000 who responded said they want it removed. Currently, there is no bodychecking in any competitive bracket of any age level from peewee (12 years old) and below anywhere in Canada. The GTHL move would eliminate body contact at all age levels for the ‘A’ bracket, but bodychecking would continue at the more competitive ‘AA’ and ‘AAA’ levels.

The proposal still has to be passed by the GTHL’s board of directors and the member teams, but executive director Scott Oakman is confident it will come to pass. “Certainly a good majority of the people involved in ‘A’ hockey want to see this,” Oakman said. “I would say it’s not a question of whether it will pass, but when it will pass and how it will be implemented.”

What the organization would like to do is to give teams next year to get adjusted and pick their teams this spring knowing there will be body contact next season. The edict would then be introduced progressively on a year-to-year basis starting with minor bantam and working up to major midget hockey in four years. That way, any player who is currently playing or will be playing with body contact will continue to do so for the rest of his minor hockey career at the ‘A’ level.

There are, of course, those who are vocal in their opposition to the rule, saying that taking body contact out of the ‘A’ level of hockey will pose a disadvantage to players who want to move up to the ‘AA’ and ‘AAA’ ranks later. But the reality is that the vast majority of kids who are playing ‘A’ hockey when they’re 13 will continue to do so without moving up. In fact, by that age, much of the movement is downward as players who might not have a future in competitive hockey take it less seriously as they get into their teenage years.

And it’s undoubtedly a good thing for these kids. Virtually none of the children playing hockey at that level – and, yes, there are a few exceptions – is going to play any level of hockey in his/her lifetime where he/she is going to have to bodycheck. So why expose them to the risk of injuries that comes with bodychecking if they’re essentially playing for fun.

On another front, the GTHL is also currently conducting a survey that will have an effect on the amount of money parents shell out for all levels of competitive hockey. The GTHL, if you can believe it, pays about $4.6 million in ice time fees per year, which represents about 77 percent of its budget. Part of the reason for that is that there has not been a single publicly funded arena built in Toronto since the 1970s. That has left a need for ice, which is being filled by private arena operators who charge up to $400 an hour.

As a result, the GTHL has long charged an entry fee for each game, a head tax if you will, that is placed on each player and spectator coming to the game. This season it was $6 per person and is budgeted to rise to $7 per person next season. The GTHL said the average player paid $552 in gate fees this season, an amount that will rise to $644 per player next season.

The survey is proposing that everyone attend each game for free with players being charged $575 per year up front as part of their registration fees. Those with a parent who is a team official would be charged $375 and those with more than one child playing would be charged $400 per player.

That would eliminate the need for parents to shell out every time they go to the arena, and it might encourage more parents to attend instead of avoiding the gate fees. It will also eliminate ticket takers and administrators who account for $450,000 of the league’s ice time budget.

The survey can be done on-line at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/gateadmissionsurvey until the end of the month.