When the Minnesota Hockey Recreation League (“Rec League”) was launched for the 2009-10 season, the primary goal was to create a hockey opportunity with a lower time commitment, less cost for families and was focused on having fun. Nine years later, those remain the league’s core principles, but another one of the league’s founding philosophies, to not allow checking, is playing an increasing role in helping it continue to grow at a rapid rate.
Back in 2009, no-check leagues were a rare, if not nearly unheard of, concept for youth and high school aged players. After all, hockey is a contact sport and for many, the physical nature of the game is what draws them to it.
However, developments in concussion research and parent education over the past decade have been gradually changing people’s attitudes towards checking and contact sports in general.
Hockey has been of the few sports to grow since 2008, and a focus on making the game safer and more age-appropriate has played a key role in that growth. In 2011, USA Hockey banned checking from the Peewee level, forcing players to wait until Bantams (ages 13-14) to check. Additional rule changes have significantly reduced open ice hits and hits to the head at all age levels, while also mandating concussion training for all coaches.
Fast forward to today, and parents of kids in sports have never been more aware of player safety. This has led to a growing interest in youth hockey leagues that offer a no-check option. In Minnesota, that often leads them to the Rec League.
“We’ve heard from a number of parents that appreciate the opportunity for their kids to play in a no-checking environment,” said Rec League president Ed Litman.
For many of those families, whether it’s by parental preference or due to previous injuries, playing in a checking league is simply not an option. The Rec League provides their families with an opportunity to stay involved with the game they love.
Players are still encouraged to compete hard and battle for position or loose pucks with opponents. The only difference is they’re not allowed to make direct body checks, which is consistent with most adult hockey leagues.
“Hockey is a fast-paced and exciting game so contact still occurs,” said Litman. “All sports pose some risk for player injury, but by prohibiting checking, we feel that we’ve greatly reduced the risk for injury to our players.”
If the continued growth in participation is any indication, the players and parents of the Rec League tend to agree. The league surpassed 650 players last season and has averaged nearly a 30% growth rate since 2013.
For more information on the Rec League, visit www.minnesotahockey.org/recleague.