Changing the game
Removing checking from hockey hurts the game, say locals
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
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.”
Upper Island Cove’s Trent Drover.
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.