Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Let's Talk Bodychecking

This post is written by someone that has never played organized ice hockey. I barely watch the sport anymore. So if that kind of person talking about changing hockey pisses you off, I suggest you leave now.

Hockey Canada has banned the practice of bodychecking in peewee hockey. If the numbers in this Ottawa Citizen article are to be believed (only because they are so striking) every year 12% of peewee hockey players are injured and 40% of those injuries involve concussions. As a parent with two boys, those are the kind of stats to make me say "Hell no!" when asked if I'm going to put them into hockey.

Don Cherry is worried that banning bodychecking will lead to more injuries in older players because they won't know how to take a hit. I kind of understand what he is getting at, but I'm going to propose that misses the point entirely.

What if hockey (and the NHL) banned the bodycheck entirely? (OK Settle down. Hear me out. And yeah, if they can't ban fighting, they certainly won't ban bodychecks. But bear with me here.)

To support my argument, I'm going to resurrect an old Don Cherry argument, that it is the equipment itself that is contributing to the seriousness of the injuries hockey players are experiencing. How violent a hit would a player deliver if they were just as likely to be injured as the person they hit?

I'm not against contact hockey. But why is it now so dangerous to receive a pass up the middle at the blue line? Invariably the blame is placed on the player receiving the pass "his head was down, you gotta keep your head up." So make one little mistake and a player suffers a career ending concussion? Come on, that's not a reasonable position.

I'm going to state that we need to take hockey back to pushing and shoving. The side to side shoulder or waist bumps trying to wrest control of the puck. Any perpendicular, head on or from behind hits have to be banned, you must be skating parallel to the player before you can make any contact.

This is how people play pick-up hockey when no one is wearing equipment. Instinctively most people realize anything else is really going to hurt. That kind of hockey is still a lot of fun to play (I love a good game of pickup hockey) and I think it would be a great game to watch if professionals played that way. If 12 adults can get together and play intense competitive ball hockey on an outdoor court without any serious injuries, I submit that it can be done on the ice at the professional level as well, and take nothing away from the game. I know I would watch it more, if only they could get rid of the fighting....


Ken Breadner said...

While I agree with everything you've written, I wonder if we're too far gone now to turn the clock back.
Give the players nothing but skates and institute your rules and I still think there'd injuries, bad ones. Possibly more of them. You watch an old game from the fifties vs. today and it looks like the old-timers are skating through thick mud. And in those days, you could be 5 foot 4 and still make a career for yourself. Now you've got 6'10" beasts out there who can hurt you without even intending to.

Catelli said...

Possibly. I think there would be a quick learning curve as after a huge hit, both players would be rolling around on the ice in agony. That being said, I'm not sure what level of equipment is appropriate (or the size the rink should be). But I'm glad you liked what I wrote, you being a hockey fan and all!

Anonymous said...

We have created a game where the hit is the be all and end all for many players. As a parent with my first having just completed the first year of pee wee (hitting in Alberta) these are the observations.

1) Rules when enforced helped; problem was that some players were willing to do the damage for the time.
2) Referee consistency was lacking.
3) Coaches are "Some" of the problem - saw many high fives after illegal hits.
4) Parents and other spectators are "Some" of the problem - encouragement of the "Hit" instead of clean play.
5) The media - including Don Cherry is "Some" of the problem. What they forget is that for the vast majority of players - hockey is merely a leisure time sport. A great energy burn, with a lot of challenges. It has gotten distorted by the official league mentality into a feeder system for the "Bigs" at every level which is unrealistic. The end result is to put kids into the position of Scott Stevens coming across the middle with Eric Lindrost in the cross hairs. Pay the kids millions of $ per year, insure that against injury and then we can have the discussion. Clowns like Cherry forget about the latter aspect.

BemusedLurker (Going back to no hit got another year of Hockey out of my son. He was ready to hang em up.)

Catelli said...

What they forget is that for the vast majority of players - hockey is merely a leisure time sport. A great energy burn, with a lot of challenges. It has gotten distorted by the official league mentality into a feeder system for the "Bigs" at every level which is unrealistic.

From what I understand, we have that problem here too. Good competitive hockey is contact hockey. You can play house league, but the skills just aren't there, it's too amateur. So if you're a skilled player that just wants to play without the hitting, there are no options.

Thanks for your comment!

Ken Breadner said...

...unless you're a girl.
There's still a pervasive macho man mentality that refuses to entertain that women can play real hockey. They can, and do, with every bit of the skill of the men, though minus a little of the speed and all of the hitting. But they are quite adept at impeding an opponent's progress and relieving her of the puck without creating a smear.