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Rule Changes for a Safer Game

By Minnesota Hockey, 09/24/13, 10:00AM CDT

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With the physical nature of hockey, the sport sometimes gets an unfair reputation as a dangerous sport.  The reality is player safety has always been a priority for Minnesota Hockey and USA Hockey, and major steps continue to be taken to promote a safe and positive playing environment while maintaining the central components of the game. 

One of the most recent actions (2011-12 season) to improve the safety of the game was the removal of body checking from the Peewee level.  This has allowed players to focus on skill development during critical windows of training while creating a setting where over 80% of youth players participate in a non-checking classification.

“People see major injuries on TV or in the newspaper and think hockey isn’t safe,” said Eric Olson, President of the Minnesota Hockey Officials Association. “While those incidents are tragic and need to be prevented, they are also extremely rare and don’t give an accurate picture of the sport.  Everyone involved with youth hockey in Minnesota works very hard to ensure we provide a safe environment for kids.”

The 2013-14 season is another great example of these efforts as the majority of the changes to the USA Hockey Official Playing Rules revolve around player safety.  Most of the updates can be traced back to three points of emphasis:

  1. Fair Play and respect are the backbone of successful youth hockey associations.  Everyone involved has a responsibility to conduct themselves with respect for their team, coaches, opponents, officials and the game of hockey.  Actions such as taunting, inappropriate language and other examples of unsportsmanlike conduct will not be tolerated.
  2. Intimidation tactics have no place in hockey. These actions incorrectly place winning above the more important outcomes of hockey such as safety, life lessons, skill development and fun.  Examples include targeting the head, targeting areas with less equipment and checking from behind.  These actions will be strictly penalized at any level, including those where checking isn’t allowed.
  3. The improper use of body checking is similar to intimidation tactics but are often less obvious to viewers.  The proper intent of a body check is to separate the opponent from the puck and gain possession.  When players commit penalties such as charging, boarding and roughing, they are using a body check for inappropriate objectives.

“There’s nothing wrong with a good body check,” said Olson. “That has been a part of the game since the start and will continue to be, but the point of a check is to separate the player from the puck. If your goal is blowing a guy up instead of gaining possession of the puck, that isn’t a good body check. Those are the type of hits we are looking to prevent.”

To further enforce these points, USA Hockey has enacted several rule changes for the next four seasons.  Here is an overview of the safety related rules that will take effect this season:

  • It is the players’ responsibility to wear a helmet that has a HECC certification sticker which is not expired. 
  • Any player that incurs a second misconduct penalty during the same game shall be assessed a game misconduct in place of the second misconduct penalty.
  • The penalty options for boarding, charging and head contact will be a minor plus a misconduct, major plus a game misconduct or a match penalty.  Previously, the penalty options were a minor, major, major plus a game misconduct or a match penalty.

“We have been implementing various strategies over the past several years to reduce hits to the head,” said Olson. “These rule changes, coming from USA Hockey, should really help.  Nationwide, officials can use these rules to consistently hone in on reducing and eliminating unnecessary hits, especially those targeting the head.”

Remember, hockey should be enjoyed by all participants. In order to achieve that goal, each stakeholder must take it upon themselves to integrate these concepts into the everyday hockey culture in order to ensure a more safe and positive experience.

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