Stop letting kids hit

It feels like we’ll never get away from The Great Bodychecking Debate.

We may finally see The Great Pumpkin before there’s an answer that will make everybody happy.

When an expert like Dr. Mark Aubry stands up and says wait until the latest age possible to introduce it to hockey games, we should be listening.

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Aubry has impeccable credentials. He’s the Chief Medical Officer for the International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada, a member of the IOC Medical Commission and co-director of the Ottawa Sports Medicine … and on and on and on.

Essentially, the guy knows his shit.

And no matter how many times he says ‘body checking causes injuries,’ you’ll still get some yahoo stand up in the Q&A session and say he intends to teach his eight- and nine-year-old players how to go into a corner and how to knock a guy off the puck.

Seriously, it happened today at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit.

Aubry researched the recent literature published and found 22 ‘good’ studies linking bodychecking and injuries. One was conducted in Calgary and compared peewees in Alberta – checking allowed – against peewees in Quebec – checking not allowed.

“There was a threefold increase in the number of injuries in Alberta who had checking, compared to the kids in Quebec,” said Aubry. “Twice the number of concussions in Alberta.”

Concussions … head shots in 11- and 12-year-old hockey. You know me? You know I’ve taken my share of shots to the head, whether from hockey, soccer or walking the dog. Yes, walking the dog … shut up, it happened.

Back to the point … bodychecking causes injuries.

They’re linked.

Suck it up. Deal with it.

“The studies have looked at different age groups, even atom, and the rate of injury is always higher for checking teams,” Aubry asserted.

Is the women’s game different because it has incidental contact but no body checking?

Yes. It is. Data has been collected at world championships for the last 12 years.

“There are less injuries in the women’s game,” Aubry assured the Summit delegates.

Safety

It’s time, he said, for hockey to get proactive and start looking at preventing head – and spinal – injuries, instead of wondering how to stop them.

We’ve all heard the ‘he was skating across the blueline with his head down’ justification for getting a bell rung. Hell, I’m guilty.

“It’s changing the culture of hockey,” said Aubry. “You see a shoulder check to the head, the kid goes down and you can see the kids on the bench saying ‘what a great check.’

“Skill development is an important prevention tool. We need to get kids to keep their heads up, to know where the players are on the ice and, if we see a guy with his down, we hold up, knowing there’s a risk.”

Bob McKenzie, TSN host, suggested we’ve created a game that is so fast we can’t protect our children.

To which Jeff Marek of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada replied on Twitter: I agree w/that. I think we’ve traded speed for safety.

“Don’t do it,” Brendan Shanahan, newly appointed … for the NHL and legendary NHL player, said to the earlier-mentioned yahoo who’s hell-bent on teaching pre-pubescent kids to hit.

If you won’t listen to Dr. Aubry, why don’t you listen to Shanny?

He remembers a big uproar when bodychecking was taken out of peewee when he was playing at that division. The parents were upset their kids weren’t learning the ‘art’ of the bodycheck.

“One of my teammates at the time was Bryan Marchment and I think he figured it out pretty well,” Shanahan said, drawing a chuckle from the crowd.

There’s no rush, he said, because the benefits don’t outweigh the risks.

“All this debate about hitting and non-hitting,” said Shanahan, “parents say we don’t want to take hitting out because we’ll breed a generation of non-aggressive players. I say if it’s in you, it’s in you. With youngsters, there’s no fighting but when you get to a professional level, it’s in you. Nobody has to teach you the aggressiveness and the desire, but we do have to teach you the skills.

“When I see my son on the ice – and I love that he loves it –what I really want is a safe environment for him to love the game.”

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