Chang­ing the game

Re­mov­ing check­ing from hockey hurts the game, say lo­cals

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER

Up­per Is­land Cove’s Trent Drover should be look­ing for­ward to the start of another mi­nor hockey league sea­son.

He should be get­ting ex­cited about the prospects of pulling his fa­mil­iar red, white and blue CeeBees mi­nor hockey jersey over his head for what would be the start of his fi­nal three years of mi­nor hockey.

In­stead, he’s think­ing about giv­ing up the game he loves. The rea­son for this is a re­cent de­ci­sion by Hockey New­found­land and Labrador to re­move body check­ing from lev­els of ban­tam and mid­get di­vi­sion hockey out­side of the A di­vi­sion and high school hockey, as well as AA and AAA leagues. This in­cludes ma­jor mid­get.

The sport’s gov­ern­ing body in this province made the deci- sion dur­ing meet­ings held in Gan­der last month. It fol­lows sim­i­lar moves made in Al­berta, Que­bec and On­tario.

“I don’t un­der­stand the rul­ing, not even a lit­tle bit,” said Drover. “They ru­ined hockey all to­gether from my per­spec­tive.”

Aside from Drover, the move has stirred plenty of re­ac­tion from par­ents, coaches, of­fi­cials and play­ers on so­cial media and in rinks around the province. Many don’t un­der­stand the pur­pose it serves, while oth­ers are pan­ning the de­ci­sion.

For HNL, it is about in­creas­ing the safety level for play­ers and keep­ing play­ers around the game longer.

Drover doesn’t see it that way. He be­lieves it’ll cause more in­juries to play­ers.

“Take a player com­ing through cen­tre with the puck,” he said. “They’re go­ing to meet a player that just doesn’t care about the rules and not be ready for the hit.”

A coach’s per­spec­tive

As it stands now, the Bay Arena ban­tam A team in Bay Roberts is the only team from the re­gion slot­ted in the A di­vi­sion as of the first grad­ing re­port re­leased last month. That leaves coach Ge­off Seymour in a dif­fi­cult spot.

It means the Rovers will only play a game of hockey with body check­ing when they play other teams in the A di­vi­sion. The rest of their hockey will be played with­out be­ing able to body check.

“It is con­fus­ing for the play­ers and the coaches,” said Seymour. “It is go­ing to be prob­lem­atic. There will be sit­u­a­tions where they’ll ex­pect some in­stances of check­ing and some where they’ll not ex­pect check­ing.”

Seymour’s team is mostly made up of first-year ban­tams. They’re used to play­ing with no check­ing. That’s fine for the times they’re play­ing teams not ranked in the A di­vi­sion, but come pro­vin­cial tour­na­ment they wouldn’t have that lux­ury.

“I can see it be­ing a lot of trou­ble,” said Seymour. “You can’t turn it on and off like a light switch.”

The pre­vi­ous rules

worked

From a safety per­spec­tive, Seymour doesn’t quite un­der­stand why the changes were deemed to be nec­es­sary.

He said the pre­vi­ous rule changes in­stalled to help curb head­shots and head in­juries were work­ing. The head con­tact rule pe­nal­ized di­rect or ac­ci­den­tal con­tact to the head of an op­po­nent.

Ini­tially, it took some get­ting used to for the play­ers, but they warmed up to it and ad­justed.

“I thought it dealt with it very well,” said Seymour. “The play­ers have adapted and there isn’t a whole lot of it now.”

Chang­ing the game

Those against HNL’s de­ci­sion be­lieve that re­mov­ing check­ing from the game changes the sport’s essence. Hockey is a game of con­tact and, to some, it should re­main the same as it al­ways was.

“A big hit can pick the tempo of the game up. It can get guys into the game more,” said Drover. “Re­mov­ing body check­ing takes away half of my game. When I’m on the ice, peo­ple know I’m there. If I go in the cor­ner, I’m tak­ing the body.

The HNL de­ci­sion will be reeval­u­ated at the end of the sea­son. If it comes back into play next sea­son, it would be a wel­comed sight for some.

“I hope it comes back,” said Drover. “With­out hit­ting, hockey isn’t even a game.”

COM­PASS FILE PHOTO

Up­per Is­land Cove’s Trent Drover.

Ge­off Seymour

PHOTO BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER/THE COM­PASS

Plays like this one from a re­cent ma­jor mid­get game at the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts would be illegal in mi­nor hockey this sea­son.

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