WINNIPEG - Banning hitting at certain levels of amateur hockey has received more support -- this time from the executive director of Hockey Winnipeg.
Peter Woods “sees some value” in adopting a ban and said he wasn’t surprised when the Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association voted 76% in favour of eliminating hitting in the “fun” levels of hockey from ages five to 19 on Monday.
Bodychecking will still be permitted at the “rep” level played by the most advanced young players.
“I don’t think it’s a big shock. It’s probably long overdue,” Woods said.
The move, which starts next season in B.C., has sparked a varied response. Some complain the game is being ruined by those who want to raise children in bubble wrap. Others believe it will keep a certain level of player from quitting hockey.
“I would like to see it personally,” Woods said. “If it’s going to advance the safety of the game and allow some kids to participate in the game a little bit longer, then I would say it would have to be a positive.
“Some of those (negative) comments are coming from traditionalists who don’t want to let the sport go. They feel it’s a man’s game. They grew up in that environment and they’re still holding on to that.”
Bodychecking in Manitoba begins at peewee (11 years old), which has four tiers in Winnipeg from AA to A3. If Winnipeg were to adopt a similar ban, it would likely only involve those players at the A3 level, said Woods, noting there is often “a huge discrepancy in the physical size of players and their abilities.”
A3 players are in the game for fun and may enjoy it more if they didn’t have “a burden and fear” of being hit, he said.
“I think we need to look at different ways to repackage our sport so that it can be attractive for all levels of players, not just the players who enjoy the physical component of the game,” he said.
So how soon could one expect others to follow the Pacific Coast association’s lead?
“Change is slow at times and then it gains a little bit of momentum,” Woods offered. “I was convinced probably three or four years ago that there would be no blind-side hits ... that’s come on board, also no contact to the head, and that’s come on board.
“When we grew up, you were allowed to cross check kids from behind ... that was successfully eliminated and that was a positive step for the game.”
The game of hockey has changed and it’s up to the caretakers of the game to keep it updated, Woods said.
“Just look at a Summit Series game from 1972 or any other (game from that era),” suggested Woods, a goaltender with the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League champion Prince Albert Raiders in 1978. “You look at that and say, ‘Holy cow, are these guys ever slow.’
“The speed of the game now is so much faster at all levels. The players are so much bigger.”
Woods is certain such a move would encourage certain players to stay in the game longer.
“You see a lot of kids come back and play when they’re 20 years old,” he said. “They’re playing in the rec league, so why wouldn’t they participate in a program like this?
“It just provides another opportunity for kids to play at a level where they can enjoy the game. I see some value to it.”