Considering the many headlines generated by Sidney Crosby’s continued struggles with post-concussion syndrome, it only makes sense that there might be a ripple effect. It’s one of those situations in which a prominent figure’s struggles shines an even brighter light on an already growing problem.
Montreal’s 2011 Molson Export Quebec Hockey Summit is one of the first big gatherings of hockey minds since the latest round of Crosby updates/rumors surfaced, so it only makes sense that troublesome hits are being discussed.
The first bit of interesting news is that Hockey Canada is hoping to give youth hockey players more options when it comes to playing in non-checking leagues along with enacting a “zero tolerance policy” when it comes to hits to the head. Vice president of hockey development Paul Carson addressed the changes they are about to institute and ones that they are pondering during the summit, which ends tomorrow.
“We need to be able to react in a positive way and make these changes, and control what we can control,” Carson said.
“Organizations like the CHL, the NHL — they all have their own responsibilities to look at the trends and determine what changes need to occur to create a safer environment for the players.
“Our job is to look at the grassroots level and respond accordingly.”
The Canadian Press points out that body checks are introduced at the peewee level (for children as young as 11 years old) in Canada, although Quebec is the exception as hitting isn’t introduced until the bantam level (13-14 years old). Carson hopes to give young players more options to ease into the physical side of the sport, including a process that would gradually introduce physicality. The CP reports that well-known hockey figures such as Luc Robitaille, Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Martin and Philadelphia Flyers checking forward Max Talbot are involved in the summit.
While Carson & Co. look for ways to address hitting at the sport’s roots, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) hopes to take a “proactive stance” toward hits to the head as well. It’s not clear what exactly that means just yet, although that new stance might be clearer after the summit is over.
During the Board of Governors meeting held just prior to the start of the 2011 Molson Export Quebec Hockey Summit in Montreal, the Governors took a proactive stance regarding hits to the head, mandating the League to come up with new protocols to educate teams and players in order to eliminate hits to the head.
“The Board of Govenors made it very clear that player safety must be at the forefront of the discussions,” said QMJHL Commissioner, Gilles Courteau. “I am extremely pleased with the proactive stance adopted by our clubs regarding player safety in our great game. Player safety will be one of the key topics discussed at the Summit and I certainly look forward sharing ideas with our partners.”
On a more tangible level, the QMJHL approved a measure to have four on-ice officials for every regular season and playoff game next season. The junior league expects that measure to increase overall safety.
Ultimately, increasing the safety of the sport will likely be a gradual process without an obvious quick-fix solution. Even banning hits to the head won’t make them go away altogether; the hope is just that having clear-cut rules (and perhaps harsh punishments for rule violations) would force would-be repeat offenders to think twice before delivering a malicious hit.
Taking contact out of the game at its highest levels would rob the sport of one of its most thrilling features, but finding ways to reduce the risks for younger players is a great start toward improving player safety. We’ll keep an eye on the summit and other developments that might affect the way hits are delivered – especially since those changes could make their way to the NHL level at some point, too.