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Rule changes reduce hockey head injuries: Study


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HAYLEY MICK

TORONTO — The Globe and Mail

From high-tech helmets to computerized baseline tests, scientists are hard at work devising new ways to tackle the problem of concussions in minor hockey.

But a new study has highlighted the effectiveness of a more rudimentary strategy: changing the rules.

Rules changes can significantly reduce injuries among minor hockey players, and lead to fewer penalty minutes for aggressive acts, according to a study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Toronto researchers found stricter bodychecking rules led to injury rates that were between three- and 12-times lower.

“Interventions based on rule changes showed the greatest likelihood of making ice hockey safer for youth,” lead author Michael Cusimano, a neurologist at St. Michael’s Hospital, said in a release.

Concussion and other head injuries are a major concern from the bantam to professional levels. But in youth hockey, the debate around head injuries has centred on bodychecking among pee wee players (ages 11 to 13).

The sport’s national governing body, Hockey Canada, has said it is not interested in implementing a national ban on bodychecking at that age.

In October, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson told The Globe and Mail he believes it is better for children to be taught how to properly hit at a young age. He also said concerned parents are free to enroll their children in leagues that ban the hits.

But even as concerns about head injuries drive more regions to create leagues that ban the hits, critics say they are mostly recreational, forcing some athletes to choose between safety and their desire to play top-tier hockey. It also creates problems when teams from different streams face each other. (Which almost became the case in Alberta last year, when minor hockey officials in Calgary narrowly defeated a motion to ban the hits in city’s pee wee leagues. In Edmonton, the hits are allowed.)

Brain injuries such as concussions, which can result from bodychecking, account for 15 per cent of all injuries to players ages 9 to 16, according to the authors of the CMAJ paper.

The report’s authors conducted a literature review, meaning they found 18 other studies that looked at interventions aimed at reducing violence in minor hockey, and assessed them for larger trends. Of the 13 studies that looked at rules changes, 11 showed a reduction in penalties and/or injuries; nine showed a statistically significant decrease.

The findings bolster what safety advocates have been saying for years: prevention is key, and no piece of equipment on the market can protect a child from concussion.

“[The most important thing is] prevention of those concussions by proper adherence to the rules – and some new rules. Head-to-head contact has to be eliminated,” Charles Tator, a neurologist and founder of ThinkFirst Canada (which is now a part of safety advocacy group, Parachute) said in an interview.

Last month, Hockey Canada announced it had spent more than $100,000 to create a new smartphone application to help educate parents, coaches and trainers on how to diagnose and treat concussions. The application will be updated as new data emerges.

The CMAJ study also looked at research into the effectiveness of educational programs, but those trends were less conclusive. The three studies that looked at educational interventions showed they led to fewer penalty minutes, but did not account for injury rates.

Nine of the studies looked specifically at bodychecking rules, which led to fewer injuries, penalties, or both.

“Given that brain injuries are so common, and that they can have permanent effects, we need to introduce measures that we know have been shown to work to reduce the numbers of children and youth suffering these injuries in sport,” Cusimano said.

“Rule changes essentially alter the culture of a sport and clearly define acceptable behaviour for players, coaches, parents and officials.”

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One thing I don't understand is why officials don't call charging anymore. Used to be one of the more frequent calls. If a player took more than two steps charging into an opponent, he got whistled. And, that was when the average player was a lot smaller, and was wearing flimsy, soft pads. Now, some 240 pounder is allowed to build up momentum by running from halfway across the ice, wearing hard plated armour.

I like hard hits. Hell, I like fights, if they're fairly even matches. But, I cringe when I see someone being run.

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One thing I don't understand is why officials don't call charging anymore. Used to be one of the more frequent calls.

I hadn't thought about it, but I think you're right. My guess is that with the new obstruction rules, guys are always moving, and fast, so it's difficult to discern when they "began charging" so to speak.

I'm coming around to the view that they actually may have to allow some obstruction back into the game to slow it down. All the technology in the world isn't gonna help, when they are getting bigger and faster. That will outpace the technology.

I agree with Nicholson though that kids need to learn how to hit, and how to take a hit, at the earliest age possible. I don't see how if the do-gooders get their way and raise the age where hitting is allowed helps, at all.

I learned to hit and how to hit at age 9. It should have been more like 6. I got rocked plenty, as I was always willing to take a hit to make a play, but I was only concussed maybe a few times in 15 years of A-level hockey.

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"I agree with Nicholson though that kids need to learn how to hit, and how to take a hit, at the earliest age possible."

Yup.

What the ignorant do-gooders don't realize is that contact is fun. I didn't play hockey, but I loved football because of the hitting.

You're a hockey player. How many times did the games start to be fun when you gave or received a hit? The anxiety and the nerves end when you bump someone. The guys that you test in practice with contact end up as close friends because you know you can trust them because they won't back away from a hit.

Your point about learning to hit is dead on. A kid who is not familiar with checking is the one who lifts his gloves or butt end into the head of opponents.

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Your point about learning to hit is dead on. A kid who is not familiar with checking is the one who lifts his gloves or butt end into the head of opponents.

Absolutely. And the place you see this is beer league hockey. I used to sign up to play on teams made up of friends and acquaintances, more or less regardless of the collective skill level - so we'd end up in C-Division or something. Fine. Not too competitive, a mix of talent and experience. Because that's what it's really all about - some hockey and hanging with the boys over a few pops afterwards.

The problem, I discovered, was that playing against players who hadn't played much competitive hockey was friggin' dangerous! They typically reacted with stick violence when they received legitimate contact in non-contact hockey (e.g. you had position and they basically skated into your body). They also typically had no control over their stick. My choice was to wear a full cage or play at a higher level with people who I didn't know. I chose the latter. Less sticks to the face, more fun. Friends were annoyed, couldn't understand the decision.

Oh well...

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They typically reacted with stick violence when they received legitimate contact in non-contact hockey (e.g. you had position and they basically skated into your body).

I also found it is dangerous because they couldn't control their skating when going at moderate to high speeds. I can't tell you how many times I have been boarded unintentionally just because the opposing player could not control their skating.

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I also found it is dangerous because they couldn't control their skating when going at moderate to high speeds. I can't tell you how many times I have been boarded unintentionally just because the opposing player could not control their skating.

Yeah, that too. It's a helluva way to stop!

Meanwhile, these stories kep popping up in the media: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/proud-hockey-moms-campaign-to-ban-bodychecking-in-minor-hockey/article6122853/

Guh.

Edited by Podein25
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I also think part of the problem, however small it may be, is that in trying to control the amount of contact at the Pee Wee level, they've largely removed it from the game. My son is a goaltender on a travel Pee Wee team. I coach the defense on the team. I've been trying to get my kids to follow the new Pee Wee contact rules USA Hockey has put out. To summarize it, your feet have to be moving in the same direction as the other player, your stick has to be on the ice, and you have to be playing for the puck more than hitting the other player. This allows players to rub each other out against the boards more than open hitting. I think they've taken so much of hitting out of the game at this level, that when the players hit the Bantam level next year it's like an entirely new process. They're vulnerable to the kids who've already got a year under their belt. I'd prefer they be vulnerable in Pee Wee because there doesn't seem to be as drastic a size difference between players at the Pee Wee level in most cases as you may see at Bantam.

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They're vulnerable to the kids who've already got a year under their belt. I'd prefer they be vulnerable in Pee Wee because there doesn't seem to be as drastic a size difference between players at the Pee Wee level in most cases as you may see at Bantam.

Exactly. The only place you can really learn to hit and how to take a hit is in game situations. Very difficult to teach them out of the game, somehow, in preparation for what awaits them.

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