As the first half of the 2019- 20 season came to a close, a major observation I had was regarding player safety throughout junior hockey. It became apparent the roll-out of player safety initiatives from all governing bodies has not yet yielded the desired results. I’ve thought quite a bit of why that is the case and what I’ve determined is that I see an “old school vs. new school” approach to teaching and playing the game.
OLD vs. NEW
There are still a lot of old school beliefs prevalent in youth and junior hockey that it is acceptable to “blow up” your opponent even after they’ve released the puck. These punishing checks have nothing to do with the play yet is still seen as a legal play to punish your opponent for handling the puck then having the audacity to pass it along before you got there to hit him. The thing is, that’s not how the game is played any longer. We understand far more about the body, especially in a young, developing player, and have put regulations in place to minimize those hits and emphasize proper technique. The new school view on the player safety initiative is clear - the player delivering the check is no longer allowed to commit a punishing hit! Officials must stay the course and penalize the player delivering the check.
We also have some rule books that establish confusing double-standards when it comes to the punishment for fighting. Some rule books still give an option to remove the player from the game for fighting but allows him to return for the next game. Those same rule books, however, have punishment protocols in place to remove a player for the following game when they are penalized for head contact. Fighting used to carry a one game penalty/ suspension – that was the “old school” view on a fighting punishment,, but that has changed in recent years. The thing is, you cannot have it both ways. You have the new school approach which protects for head contact by adding an additional game as punishment but when it comes to fighting, disregards the consequences and allows the player to return in the next game. I don’t know about everyone else reading this, but I have yet to see a fight where players are punching each other in the shoulder or the chest to get their point across, they’re ripping each other’s helmets off and throwing punches at each other’s heads. You cannot have a rule that essentially allows fighting and another rule that protects the head with differing consequences. It is a simple fix though, all fighting majors require the removal of a player for the next game as if it was head contact.
Which leads to my next pet peeve as we leave 2019.
Accountability – I’m talking to all officials, players, coaches and administrators.
Officials need to stay the course and stop minimizing violent penalties with minors allowing players to stay in the game. Yes it is a tough call to remove any player for a contest, however, if the shoe fits they need to wear it! Why is the official the target of the abuse from coaches when we are removing a player who committed a serious violation of the rules? When do we start to caring about the person who received the hit? We all have eyes. We all understand the ramifications of concussions and repetitive blows to the head. The players’ bodies take enough abuse throughout the course of their careers. We, as stewards of the game - teachers, promoters, whatever you want to call us - the adults who are running leagues, coaching teams, and officiating games, need to do our part to protect the players and allow the rules to be enforced.
Over the first half of the season at all levels I have witnessed players who were we removed from the games and immediately the coaches are on the officials to change the call. The arguments are widespread and depend on the level of play:
Mites through bantam – “we came a great distance to play this game how can you throw him out this early in the game?”
Midgets though junior – “you can’t throw him out for that head contact penalty, a college coach is coming to see him tomorrow! You’re ruining the kids future!”
But those coaches, while passionate, are misguided. What do those coaches say to a parent, or an opposing coach even, who just watched their son/player removed from the ice on a stretcher? Why is the onus on the official for making the call? Why does the coach complain to them for enforcing player safety rules? The coach should be reprimanding his player for hurting his team and hurting his future. We need to STOP protecting the players committing the violent infractions; we need officials to stay the course and league administrators need to back the player safety initiative and stand behind the officials making the calls.
On the flipside we don’t have video replay at the midget to junior level which means officials do not get to pick up the flag, so they say, on a misjudged call from a muddled sightline or other on-ice intelligence he gets from this partner. We make mistakes and sometimes a player will be removed for what would have been a minor penalty infraction. We as officials fully understand the frustration this causes. But the official is erring on the side of player safety. They’re calling the game how they see it and most times officials feel like they’d rather make the borderline player safety call then let it go and allow play to escalate. If that happens, things can get out of control and players could get hurt.
I am looking to a brighter 2020 where we collectively can work together on the player safety initiative, officials continue enforce the rules when it comes to player safety and have the confidence to make the call without fear of being ripped apart by a coach for their player’s actions, and have league administrators continue to get the message out that the game is changing and we need to change with it.
For those officials looking to advance looking or additional training feel free to reach out to me. There is no charge for the training. Just commitment to getting better!
For those officials who are currently USA Registered or Members of National Ice Hockey Officials (NIHOA) Association who are interested in advancing to the junior and collegiate levels, we have several midget and junior tournaments throughout the season that will include secondary training on player safety, game management, and on ice mechanics for all officiating systems. After successful completion of the classes you will added to the staffs at the junior level to The United States Premier Hockey League and The Eastern Hockey League, which are the training leagues for Atlantic Hockey League.
I will also add you to the staffs of College Hockey America a Division 1 Women’s League and the following men’s leagues; The Division 2 North East 10 and at the Division 3 The North East Conference and the Massachusetts College Athletic Conference.
For those interested please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org trainings are all year long with classroom training at the Foxboro Arena and The Atlantic Hockey Office in Winthrop Mass.