Hockey Canada’s recent decision to ban bodychecking at the peewee level is a concern of some Yorkton minor hockey coaches.
“I think injuries will go up at the bantam level because of the ban,” said Damon Kustra, who coached the bantam AA Terriers last year. “There is a wide range of kids at the bantam level that go from 5-feet to over 6-feet. It will be tough for the smaller kids to learn the fundamentals against kids much bigger than them. At least at the peewee level, the kids are closer to each other’s size.”
Former Yorkton Harvest coach and NHL forward Jeff Odgers believes bad habits developed at the peewee level could lead to serious injuries in bantam.
“With no bodychecking in pewee, the players will develop more bad habits,” he said. “They’ll keep their head down more and that will be tough to quit at the bantam level. I definitely think the bigger injuries will go up in bantam because of this.”
Ultimately, the onus is on the bantam coaches to teach and inform their players how to properly protect themselves. This, however, won’t be easy with only roughly three weeks of practice at the start of the year before the players suit up in a game.
“The bodycheck ban makes bantam coaches’ jobs harder,” said Kustra. “More time will have to be dedicated to teaching them how to take and give a hit.”
“The bantam coaches will have to put a huge emphasis on teaching their players how to properly bodycheck,” added Jason Gordon, who has coached various minor hockey levels and is a scout for the WHL’s Prince George Cougars. “The players will have experience in bodycontact before bantam. So they will have some knowledge on positioning themselves and battles along the boards. But it will take time for the coaches to develop the proper skills of bodychecking when they make the jump to bantam.”
Since first-year bantams won’t have any bodychecking experience, it seems their vulnerability to injury could affect their odds of making AA teams.
“I think the AA teams in bantam will pretty much be just second-year players,” said Kustra. “It pretty much is already, but it will be even more so now. Coaches will want players with experience, so they’ll take second-year players. And it will be easier to learn bodychecking at the A level since there are smaller players in that league.”
Despite whether they were for or against the idea, it seems no one was overly taken off guard by the bodychecking ban in peewee.
“With other provinces taking bodychecking out of peewee, I wasn’t surprised when Hockey Canada made it mandatory for all provinces,” said Gordon. “Hockey Canada did a lot of research and you knew they were leaning towards banning bodychecking in peewee.”
“I’d like to say I was surprised, but I wasn’t,” added Odgers. “That’s the way our society is going with everyone wanting to eliminate injuries. It’s good to try to cut down the injures, but I’m not sure if this will really fix the problem or just push some of those injuries up to the bantam level.”