It’s a story that plays out time and time again every Mustangs hockey season.
Teams from the Whitehorse’s representative hockey club regularly have slow starts in tournaments outside of the Yukon because of the sudden jump to more physical play.
There is no bodychecking in Whitehorse league play, so it almost always takes a game or two for Mustangs teams to settle into games with it.
That will no longer be the case for the Peewee A Mustangs and the Peewee B Mustangs.
Hockey Canada has decided to remove bodychecking from the peewee level (ages 11-12) beginning next season, it announced in a tweet following its annual general meeting in Charlottetown on Saturday.
Instead, bodychecking will be introduced at the next age level up, in bantam hockey.
Martin Lawrie, who has been head coach for the Peewee A Mustangs the last two seasons, believes this will help the team at Outside tournaments.
“I definitely think that will help them in their adjustment to tournaments, early on especially,” said Lawrie. “There’s still the intensity and the speed of the game that you have to ramp-up each time you head out of town after a stay at home … (But) it will help them for sure.”
The decision by the sport’s national governing body to remove bodychecking from pre-teen hockey did not come out of the blue. Hockey Alberta and Hockey Nova Scotia already made the move to ban bodychecking at the peewee level prior to Saturday’s decision. Hockey Quebec removed contact from the age group more than two decades ago.
The idea of removing peewee bodychecking gained significant traction following the release of a five-year study by University of Calgary last year.
The study found peewee players in Alberta were four times as likely to suffer a concussion than players in Quebec. The study also found players were three times as likely to suffer an injury.
“I’m not surprised,” said Lawrie of the announcement. “There’s no arguing their logic that there’s less injuries when you pull bodychecking from any league. Their position is the studies show that when they introduce it back at an older age, they are not seeing a dramatic increase in the number of injuries at that point, which has always been a concern …
“If that’s the case, and it’s factual, I don’t think you can argue that.”
CBC hockey personality Don Cherry sees it as easily arguable.
During his Coach’s Corner segment of Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, the vociferous Cherry argued the ban will leave Canadian players at a disadvantage when it comes to international play.
“What’s going to happen is these kids are going to go up to (age) 13 and then they’re going to go in with kids that hit. And they don’t know how to protect themselves,” exclaimed Cherry.
However, some are more concerned with the majority playing at the rec league level than the minority playing at the international level.
“Our job is to teach kids hockey and hope that they love the game to the point that they’re involved in it for the rest of their life,” said Lawrie. “We want them to be playing rec league when they get older … Most of the opportunities will be in non-contact hockey going forward – outside of a few elite players.”
The Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association is ahead of the curve once again, said president Carl Burgess, a little tongue-in-cheek.
Whitehorse minor removed bodychecking from all age groups in 2006.
“Our experience with banning it out of house league has helped our league tremendously,” said Burgess. “We’ve grown the league and all our athletes and players have been achieving at relatively higher rates than before we took contact out of house league.”
“It’s checking opposed to contact – there’s still contact in all our leagues, but you’re not allowed to bodycheck,” he added.
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