Body checking banished from minor hockey for fall season

by Alicia McCutcheon

MANITOULIN—Manitoulin Minor Hockey (MMH) no longer has to have its yearly discussions on the controversial subject of body checking as the decision was made for them last month in a motion by the Ontario Hockey Association.

The motion reads, “Effective the 2011-2012 season, body checking will be removed from all age divisions of House League and House League Select hockey.”

Tom Moffat of Little Current, president of MMH, told The Expositor he was aware there were mixed feelings about the ruling, but he’s in support of it because “it’s recreational hockey.”

“We have such a variety of skills, ages and sizes all out on the ice,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get rid of body checking since I’ve been involved in the organization. It’s gone in Quebec and Alberta and it was only a matter of time before this happened.”

Mr. Moffat said he is hopeful that this may mean that there will be an increase in numbers come registration next fall.

“We see a big drop off in numbers from atom to peewee (body contact began in peewee level hockey) because the kids just don’t want to do it and don’t want to get hit,” he explained.

Mr. Moffat told the story of a first year peewee player last season in the Manitoulin minor hockey system who was not as experienced as some of the other players he played against. The skater was hit by an older, bigger peewee player and suffered a severe concussion. His family doctor has told the family he should never play hockey again.

Roy Knobel, a coach with the Little Current Flyers, agrees with Mr. Moffat, saying that although “it caught everyone by surprise,” he was pleased with the decision.

“We had no body checking in midget this year as a trial,” he said. “It went really well. There was a bit of opposition, but in hindsight, it worked out better.”

“There are a lot of associations that have taken body checking out altogether and this year, our tournament was no body checking,” Mr. Knobel continued. “It’s always been a contentious issue and I do agree that the skill needs to be taught in case they do go on to a higher level of play, such as the Panthers.”

He noted that Hockey Canada has programs on progressive steps to body checking and that “nowhere does it ever reference aggressive hitting. And that’s what bothers me, the over-celebration of aggressive hitting.”

And while Brock Size, another Flyers coach, agrees with Mr. Knobel that nasty hits such as the one received by Canada’s much-loved Sidney Crosby or the vertebrae crushing hit of Zdeno Chara on March 8 against Max Pacioretty are taking away from the nation’s game, he doesn’t believe that removing body checking from minor hockey altogether is the way to go.

“It really needs to be taught from a young age and up, to know how to, as safely as possible, give and take a hit,” Mr. Size said.

The coach said that he thought body checking should be taught as early as novice, while the players are still tentative about hitting and not burly teenagers out to shed some aggression.

“The younger they can start, the better and safer they’ll be,” he continued. “Coaches in the younger levels should teach the kids that they aren’t going out to hurt people, but to switch up the play and ‘here’s how you do it effectively.'”

“It’s a contact game, and if they move on to a higher level, it’s there,” Mr. Size added.