CHARLOTTETOWN - The game of hockey will soon change for peewee-level players across the country after a vote by Hockey Canada on Saturday that banned bodychecking.
Hockey Canada's board of directors overwhelmingly voted to eliminate bodychecking for peewee players at its annual general meeting in Charlottetown on Saturday, with only the Saskatchewan Hockey Association voting against.
The decision comes in the same month that both Hockey Alberta and Hockey Nova Scotia did away with bodychecking for its peewee players, who are usually 11 and 12 years old. Quebec had also previously banned it.
Debate over when to allow players to start hitting has inflamed emotions on both sides of the argument for years.
But research that came out of Alberta last year showed there was a three-fold increase in the risk of injuries for peewee players who check in Alberta, compared to those in Quebec where bodychecking is not allowed until bantam.
Paul Carson, vice-president of hockey development for Hockey Canada, said safety was a key factor in the board's decision. He said reaction at the meeting was mixed, but most thought it was the right move.
"While some would be reluctant because of their traditional beliefs of the game, they also understood that the safety and the area of skill development were critical issues to consider," said Carson on Saturday.
Kelly McClintock, general manager of the Saskatchewan Hockey Association, maintains that bodychecking is a skill that should be taught to children as young and eight and nine.
"Our membership has always been very strongly in favour of having bodychecking as early as possible," he said. "It's always been a pretty emotional discussion."
He said the association was disappointed, but not surprised that the motion passed.
The changes will take effect in the upcoming 2013-14 hockey season, which begins in September.
Hockey Canada said the board has agreed to develop a bodychecking standard for coaching, to be implemented in the 2014-15 season.
But McClintock says that's putting "the cart before the horse."
"For us it was probably a little bit more of a concern over the process, that it happened very quickly in the last three weeks to a month," said McClintock. "I think we have to look at the process that we follow when we're going to do something like this."
Halifax Mooseheads coach Dominique Ducharme, who is in Saskatoon for the MasterCard Memorial Cup, noted that 11- and 12-year-old kids can vary drastically in size.
"The more the players at a younger age can work on their skills, beside wondering about getting body checked and body weight and height difference, I think maybe (in) the long run it might just help develop players with even better skills," he said.
But Mooseheads forward Stefan Fournier said bodychecking teaches players an important aspect of the game at an younger age.
"When you're a peewee hockey player the game's not as fast. It teaches you to learn to keep your head up when you're skating around. That kind of stuff does limit head injuries," said Fournier, a day before hitting the ice at the Memorial Cup final against the Portland Winterhawks.
"The game's fast and if you have your head down for a split second you can get caught."
By Aly Thomson in Halifax and Joshua Clipperton in Saskatoon