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Body Checking: fundamental skill or dangerous tradition?
By T-J C., Fredericton High, Fredericton, NB

The player screams down the ice, puck in tow, toward the opposing team's net. Two defencemen oppose him as he winds up for a blistering slap shot. His stick, elevated into the air, throws him just off balance, and the defenceman uses his advantage to slam him into the boards. The Referee's arm shoots up and play is whistled to a stop, but the call is not roughing, or charging, as one might expect, but body checking. It may sound odd, but it's what's happening in many recreational hockey leagues across New Brunswick.

The change to the rules only affects players in recreational leagues. Those in competitive levels can still body check. According to Hockey Canada's web site (http://www.canadianhockey.ca) the rule in the rest of Canada only affect levels of atom and below, and women's leagues. FYHA (Fredericton Youth Hockey Association) and Hockey New Brunswick do not list the rule change on their web sites (www.FYHA.ca, www.hnb.ca). The change in New Brunswick has come with the addition of a third year of young players into Midget level hockey.

According to www.betterhockey.com, "Body contact is an element of hockey that we both love and hate. It is the same component that has a history of simultaneously gaining respect for hockey players while tarnishing the game's image. Body contact and physical play are important parts of hockey, they always have been, and always will be."

The new rules have advantages for smaller players entering older leagues, like Brett Barnhill. Brett is a forward for an Atom Competitive team in Fredericton NB, and his level does not allow him to check. "[Body checking is] not the best thing, but you know sometimes to get the puck you need to, so it's not good or bad." Brett said in a phone interview, "somebody hit me last game I played, they weren't supposed to hit me, so they got a five minute penalty."

Thomas Barnhill, Brett's father and former doctor for the Saint John Flames, AHL hockey team said "I see more injuries from skiing at Crabbe Mountain then I do from body checking in hockey. But according to the essay "Body Checking and the concussions in ice hockey: Should our youth pay the price?" in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, July 2003 edition, "Body checking accounts for 86% of all injuries among players 9 - 15 years. Players in contact leagues are 4 times as likely to be injured, and 12 times as likely to receive a fracture than players in non contact leagues."

The article continues to say that the link between aggressive play and winning is almost nonexistent, and that not checking is the best way to prevent most injuries in minor hockey.

Greg Connors a right winger for the Midget recreational Lightning in Fredericton NB says that the removal of body checking increases slashing and hooking injuries, but these are not recorded because most are only minor cuts or bruises.

Concussions are another major issue in the debate over body checking.

With NHL star Eric Lindros' recent battle against several major concussions the problem was brought into the lime light. The report mentioned above states, "10% - 12% of minor league players 9-17 years old who are injured report a head injury, most commonly a concussion." Concussions can be minor enough to go with out notice or major enough to result in temporary loss of eyesight and can occur with a simple bump to the head.


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