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Check That Check!
Body Checking in Ice Hockey

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article published on page 10 in the January 24-25, 2009 issue of
The Mississauga News under the Feature:
Health, Wellness & Beauty, Medicine Matters
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

Despite how our professional teams do, local teams will continue to define hockey as "the good old Canadian sport." Arenas, basements, bars and anywhere else that people meet, are teaming with discussions of policies and how to best promote this Canadian Institution. As a coach, player, hockey parent and doctor, I enjoy the interactiions that such discussion generates. Over the last 15 years, I have seen rules come and go, but most seem to just swirl around in full circles over the years. It is undisputable that the recent rule changes in the National Hockey League (NHL) have resulted in changes of how the game is played, but it really hasnít changed the game. Body checking is one of those controversial issues. It was banned in house-league levels for the longest time, and then reintroduced a few years ago. It was felt that with better equipment, learning to body-check at a younger age would result in better quality of play and player. The pros and cons are too numerous to get into. One thing is for sure, and that is that body checking does make it a whole different game. As a coach, I somewhat reluctantly accepted the reintroduction and we began to teach the skill to players. Body-checking is simply a maneuvre to "bump" the other player off the puck, and gain control of the puck. It is not intended to injure or render a player unconscious. The problem develops because there is just no way of regulating that flow of testosterone that clouds common sense and sometimes spills into the stands. Some parents cannot recognize a skillfully executed body check, unless their cries of "hit 'em" are met with a suitable display of attempted injury. When I asked my midget team to define a "body-check", some answers were unprintable.

The data of reintroduction of body checking is plentiful enough to allow analysis. Articles are appearing in the literature, which tend to mirror and confirm my own experience. In one season alone on my midget team comprised of 16 and 17 year olds, we racked up 14 injuries severe enough to cause players to miss or leave games. Six of the injuries were minor concussions, which are difficult to diagnose and tend to be under-reported. One recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal looked at the injury rates among 10 to 12 year olds. Alarmingly, introduction of body checking doubles the risk of injury. Interestingly, not all injuries resulted from body-checks. The game strategy changes somewhat when different size kids are encouraged to bump each other off the puck in order to gain control. Another study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics substantiated the findings of increased injuries, but also found an earlier age of body-checking introduction correlates with higher injury levels.

I have also coached women's hockey, and find that the sport is growing substantially amongst the female sect. There is no body checking allowed at any level in women's hockey. The game is enjoyable to watch and results in fewer injuries. Adult men's hockey is another growing sector that does not allow body checking. Many coaches are uncomfortable with the double standard that requires them to teach a skill which is banned in their own leagues. The data is now in, and I lend my voice in joining the Canada Safety Council to refine this issue so as to minimize injury to our kids.

I am not certain whether banning body checking would rid us of the "arena parent syndrome". Only in a Canadian hockey arena do I hear parents screaming at the tops of their lungs for their kids to "hit" other children. One of the most destructive devices in house league sports is the scoreboard. Scoreboards seem to influence how parents react, and tend to obliterate all the positive aspects and attributes that team play can generate and teach. If it were up to me, I would ban scoreboards, and replace them with automatic blood pressure cuffs. I encourage you to go to the arena in a positive frame of mind. Recognize that referees are part of the human race and may not see the game at ice level in the same way that a parent sees it from the stands. All kids play the game for the love of it. Cash for goals is bribery, and does not encourage the finesse of a well-executed team play. Look a little further and you will discover that what really make your child a good team player are attributes that will make them valuable members of society. Encourage and build on this principle and future returns will be plentiful.


Related resources:

Bodychecking and concussions in ice hockey: Should our youth pay the price? By Anthony Marchie and Dr. Michael D. Cusimano, Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).
Protect Children from Catastrophic Hockey Injuries by Dr. W. Gifford Jones - Concussions, Brain Bruises, from Canada Free Press (CFP). "A recent study showed 86 per cent of all hockey injuries among players 9 to 15 years of age are due to body checking."
Safety in Youth Ice Hockey: The Effects of Body Checking from American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. "A Canadian study in 1984 revealed 42 spinal injuries in hockey players reported to the Committee on Prevention of Spinal Injuries. The median age of the injured players was 17 years. Of the 42 players, 28 had spinal cord injuries, of which 17 had complete paralysis below the vertebral level of the injury. Being body checked from behind, resulting in a collision with the boards, was the most common mechanism of injury ... A more recent US study reported injuries in youth hockey players 9 to 15 years old. Head and neck injuries accounted for 23% of the total number of injuries. Body checking accounted for 86% of all injuries that occurred during games ... Another Canadian study compared peewee-level players (ages 12 and 13 years) from a league that allowed body checking with another league that did not. Players in the league that allowed body checking had a fracture rate 12 times higher than the rate of the other league."
Ban bodychecking for under-17s: neurosurgeon from CBC News.
Body checking: when is it appropriate to introduce it to kids hockey? From CBC News, Sports Medicine.
Position Statement: Violence and Injuries in Ice Hockey - in PDF from Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine (CASM) Sport Safety Committee.
More calls to ban body contact in kids hockey by Angela Mulholland, CTV.ca News Staff.
Should Bodychecking Be Banned from Youth Ice Hockey? From Neuroscience for Kids, Ice Hockey and Brain Injury.
Is There a Place for Body Checking in Minor Hockey? From After The Whistle.
Body-checking kids get more injuries as teens from CTV.ca News.
Body-Checking Rules and Childhood Injuries in Ice Hockey by Macpherson A, Rothman L, Howard A. Published in Pediatrics June 1, 2006.

Effect of bodychecking on injury rates among minor ice hockey players by Brent E. Hagel, Josh Marko, Donna Dryden, Amy B. Couperthwaite, Joseph Sommerfeldt and Brian H. Rowe. Published in Canadian Medical Association Journal - CMAJ, July 18, 2006.

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