USA Hockey faces a hard task: how does it continue to promote the game we all love in America and how does it continue to develop elite athletes with concussions on the rise? Today the USA Hockey Board of Directors agreed on the Progressive Checking Skill Development Program the highlights of which are thus:
- Pee-wees (ages 11 & 12) will no longer be allowed to check. Full contact hockey in the USA will start at age 13 (Bantams).
- The program will emphasize more body contact pre-checking.
The goal here is to get players bumping and grinding along the boards but to remove the "intimidation" hits from the game. I coached 9 & 10 year olds this year and it was pretty sad at the end of the season knowing that some of the kids played their last game (whether they know it yet or not) because next year they’ll move on to checking hockey.
This is the presentation on what would be legal and illegal. Essentially USA Hockey wants "big hits" out of the youth game and will emphasize bumping along the boards, rubbing players out, and other low speed contact where strength and savvy affect the puck battle.
USA Hockey removing big hits and hits where players don’t attempt to take the puck is absolutely the right move for the youth game. Children’s skulls aren’t done developing and the more we learn about concussions and their effects later in life the more we want to protect their brains.
Expect the usual knuckle draggers to say that we’re "pussifying" the game or we’re turning players into "sissies". I feel genuinely sorry for any kids being coached by these people. Want proof that this is the right move? Even guys like Mike Milbury, fresh off of making an oh so witty "Sedin Sisters" joke, doesn’t think raising the checking age "softens" the sport:
Don’t get me wrong. I love the physical part of the game, but I believe the introduction of physical play into the game should come at a deliberate pace. It starts with teaching body contact — rubbing, bumping, edging out and gaining proper positioning on an opponent — rather than focusing on hard hits. – Mike Milbury
We want to keep kids safe and we want more kids playing hockey instead of quitting our sport because they’re worried about getting hurt. Kudos to USA Hockey for taking what will prove to be an unpopular stance. It’s the right one.