There was a time, not so long ago, when no-check hockey was considered a needless and unpopular idea, but with the growing awareness and education around concussions, the concept has gained significant interest over the past decade.
Back in 2009, when the Minnesota Hockey Recreation League (“Rec League”) was first started, no-check leagues for boys were almost completely unheard of. Flash forward to today, and the starting age of checking has been moved back to Bantams for all players, numerous rule changes have been implemented to reduce open ice hits, hits to the head and create a new culture of respect for players’ safety.
The emphasis on safety, along with a more age-appropriate approach, has helped hockey grow over the past decade when many mainstream sports, especially contact sports like football, have seen notable declines. As a part of that growth, no-check hockey leagues have become more common across the U.S. and in Canada.
The Rec League, which was designed to provide a low cost and lower commitment hockey option, has also seen growth related to its no-checking format. Over the past four seasons, the Rec League has averaged an increase of two teams or roughly 30 players at its 14U level, which is the same age checking is introduced in most leagues, compared to the 12U age group.
Rec League President Eric Hedblom witnessed why that transition is so common first hand with one of his son’s friends shortly after joining the league.
“He had been concussed three times,” said Hedblom. “There’s no way his parents would let him, nor would he play, if there was any checking. In fact, they were very cautious even with no-check because there are no guarantees.”
“There are going to be collisions. There are going to be accidental hits. What we focus on is taking away the purposeful checking and the purposeful hits that can lead to something more.”
As Hedblom points out, hockey is still a contact sport so the removal of checking doesn’t eliminate physical play. Players are still encouraged to compete hard and battle for position or loose pucks with opponents. The primary difference is players must be focused on winning the puck which lowers the risk of big hits.
“A real focus of our coaching clinics is to encourage coaches talk to kids if they are starting to get a little too aggressive,” said Hedblom. “You talk to them and tell them to tone it down and remind them what the league is about, which is to have fun and be physically active in a team environment.”
For more information on the Rec League, visit www.minnesotahockey.org/recleague.