My son is in his third season playing ice hockey. We live is Southeastern Pennsylvania. He started in 5th grade playing Middle School Hockey. While this is the lowest level of organized hockey outside of house leagues it may also be the most dangerous as 5th graders often find themselves lined up against 8th graders. They can find themselves facing competitors four years their senior. The difference between a ten year old and a fourteen year old is enormous. Both of my son’s concussions have occurred in this league. Most of the serious injuries I’ve seen have occurred in school hockey.
While these leagues present an uncommon problem with youth hockey in the states it is a serious problem.
This is my son’s second year playing travel hockey. While the disparity in age has been removed I’ve seen a common denominator in the occurrence of concussions in both leagues and levels. Kids who are looking to make a big hit rather than actually playing the game. In the case of both of my son’s concussions the other kid took advantage of my son placing himself in a vulnerable position. He was hit right after turning up ice. In neither case was the other player even attempting to play the puck. During the hit that caused his second and far worse concussion he was cross checked under the chin.
I’ve seen plenty of these hits in youth hockey. I’ve seen elbows to the jaw that left twelve year olds spinning and repeatedly falling trying to get themselves off the ice. None of these hits really have anything to do with playing the actual game. There’s a mindset that the big hit is just as important as playing the puck. Violent hits and goals are the candy of the NHL highlight reels. All the kids are into it. There are only two things that bring the kids to their feet on the bench: a goal and a big hit. They stand and bang their sticks after both plays.
Our coach doesn’t teach the big hit. He teaches our kids to remove the skater from the puck along the boards by pinching the opposing player off with a check against the boards. That’s the only check I’ve ever seen him teach in practice yet there are some kids who can’t wait to step into a player and lay them out without bothering to look for the puck.
Delivering a hit designed simply to punish an opposing player should not be celebrated, it should be punished. That player should come back to the bench feeling bad about what he just did to the other player, not as a hero. Accidents will happen when a game is as fast moving as ice hockey but what I see at all levels of hockey are not accidents causing concussions but players causing concussions.
Until the hit to injure is punished within the team structure no amount of league level legislation or rule enforcement can remove the increasing amount of concussions at the youth and professional level.