To Hit or Not To Hit, That is Question: Hockey’s Great Debate

Over the last three years I’ve received a lot of praise and criticism regarding my social media posts titled “Observations From the Rink”, so much so that I didn’t bother posting them for the longest time. 

Well, that’s changed this season.

My observations from the rink are just that my observations, they aren’t meant to be negative or disrespectful, they are just what I see happening in the game based on my experiences as a player, coach, broadcaster, writer and more recently a scout. 

When I wrote my latest “Observations From the Rink” on Sunday, I anticipated some reaction, but I was blown away by people’s comments and how two sided the debate still is. 

The social media post definitely rekindled the debate. To Hit or Not To Hit That is the Question?

Observations From the Rink: Midget aged players are really struggling taking good routes to pucks, maybe if we still had contact at the Pee Wee level kids would learn the skill quicker, they are putting themselves in vulnerable positions, someone is going to get hurt. 

I wrote the following blog on 5/28/13 a few days after Hockey Canada made the decision to remove hitting from Pee Wee. 

Things haven’t changed that much, neither has my opinion. 

To Hit or Not to Hit?:  Hockey Canada’s Ban on Checking Good or Evil 

Hockey Canada made a bold decision to ban body contact at the Pee Wee level this past weekend.   The ban stretches across the country and will definitely impact hockey moving forward.    The question is will it be detrimental or beneficial?   The percentage of concussions in youth hockey is an alarming and is cause for definite concern!  Nevertheless, fully banning body contact at the Pee Wee and Bantam levels may not be the answer? 

From a personal perspective having played Pee Wee AAA in the non-contact era that was the 90’s, I can honestly say that it was an incredibly fast style of hockey with endless action.  Nevertheless, our coach and my mentor taught us how to give and receive a check even if it was outlawed at the time.   Accepting the fact that body contact is outlawed doesn’t make it ok not to inform and teach players the proper way of giving and receiving a check.   

From a coaching perspective, the Pee Wee level is very diverse and can definitely lend itself to a drastic variety of skill sets, sizes and shapes.  I truly believe to ban contact at the Pee Wee and Bantam levels will cause a major setback in our brand of hockey and development for years to come.    

I am a proponent to start educating players about body contact at a much earlier age.  I strongly believe that if players learn how to respect their opponents and grow up with some contact early on in their careers that they will become accustom and not fearful of that aspect of the game.   Hockey Canada has to look at broadening the knowledge base of amateur coaches and giving them support when teaching the fundamentals of checking.   I was criticized a while back for teaching girls how to take or handle body contact at the high school level.   

I was approached by countless parents wondering why I took the time to actually teach the girls what a body check actually felt like. It was a groundbreaking endeavor because when the girls actually gained some knowledge about the physicality of the game and learned how to “rub out” their opponent.

While discussing this controversial decision with some colleagues at work yesterday that he would promote and support  “directional contact”rather than full-fledged body contact.  In essence this means to reintroduce the “old school” meaning of body contact as a separator from the puck rather than taking “runs” at your opponent.    I really believe they should promote this style of contact at the Pee Wee and Bantam levels.

 For the last two years while coaching Pee Wee I have ran “the gauntlet drill”to educate and promote the proper way to give and receive a check and it was met with enthusiasm from both parents and players.   While teaching defensive zone coverage to those teams, I always stressed the importance of good stick position rather than focusing always on body contact being the primary responsibility.  

 The body check has certainly morphed over the years and with new equipment, new rules and bigger and faster players in the game.  We have seen the check go from its sole purpose of separating player from puck to head shots, blindside hits and hits from behind.   

The latter have no business being in the game and I truly believe if we had more respect and knowledgeable coaches and players within the game that we would still have and subsequently be promoting body contact within our great game.  

You are probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned any aspect of officiating and the role they play in policing our great game. Even though we as coaches don’t always necessarily like their calls with regards to the recent hit to the head legislation they have been on the front lines of these new initiatives and have tried to enforce the rules the best to their ability.  

If you were to ask officials their take on the new decision from Hockey Canada, a vast majority of them would probably say that it’s long overdue!    

Officials have been analyzing poor coaching with regards to the proper techniques of body contact for years and let’s be honest it’s their job to distinguish between an illegal or a solid clean check really is. Clearly some associations have invited officials to their “hitting clinics”to provide the players and coaches with valuable feedback whether a certain type of contact is within the rules of hockey.   

 It goes without saying the importance and critical role body contact plays within our game and to ban such a pivotal aspect is downright scary.  

From players to coaches and officials we all have a role in promoting this aspect of the game and clearly that has ran it’s course.

Don’t get me wrong from playing and coaching this game I have witnessed firsthand some brutal and unfortunate incidents surrounding “body contact”at all levels.   Unfortunately, it would appear Hockey Canada had taken strides to completely ban contact in specific levels of hockey.   

Though the reason for the subsequent ban is justifiable, ultimately the game hockey will never be the same without its physicality. It is our responsibility as coaches to promote respectful and responsible players who know the proper meaning and technique of body contact in relation to the game of hockey.   

 Ultimately, Hockey Canada is trying to revolutionize and promote a safer brand of hockey that this blogger definitely wants to see.  Nevertheless, I really think removing the physicality from the game at any level will be drastically detrimental to player development and is certainly not the appropriate avenue to take at this juncture.   

No one can argue with Hockey Canada’s intentions but it’s the results that will be the true indicator moving forward with this controversial and thought provoking ruling.  

The debate rages on. Is it a coaching problem? Who’s responsible for teaching the skill of checking? When should they start? What about concussions? Why are Midget aged players still struggling with that aspect of the game?  In an era of the game that concussions are so prevalent why are players still showing no restraint when it comes to head contact? 

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