09/21/2015 12:15 EDT | Updated 09/21/2016 01:12 EDT

Hockey NL advises players to check their shoulders at the gate

Minor hockey at the bantam and midget divisions in Newfoundland and Labrador will be a little less physical this season, with Hockey NL voting to prohibit checking for those not playing at the elite level.

Hockey's governing body endorsed the new rule during meetings in Gander this past weekend and reverses a position taken by Hockey NL a year ago.

Officials say the decision is intended to stem the flow of players away from the game once they reach their teenage years and reduce concussions and other injuries.

Full body contact will remain for those playing in provincial AAA leagues, the Doug Marshall midget and the Don Johnson bantam leagues in St. John's, teams competing at the A level during Easter provincial tournaments, and high school hockey.

Those who play at more of a recreational level, however, will be penalized for bodychecking.

"This may keep them in the game," Ed O'Brien, vice-chair of the minor hockey council with Hockey NL, said of those who want to play at a recreational level, without fear of serious injury.

O'Brien said it's important to keep bodychecking at the elite level, since these players are more likely to pursue opportunities at the major junior ranks, or even senior hockey, and there's very little appetite for removing bodychecking completely from the game.

The issue of bodychecking has been hotly debated across Canada for many years, with opinions ranging from introducing full contact at the atom level, to eliminating it completely from the game.

The rule change expands the current prohibition on body contact at younger ages, including the atom and peewee divisions.

The bodychecking ban will be revisited again next year, said O'Brien.