A study recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that accidents are more commonly to blame for on-ice amateur-hockey injuries than bodychecking. The findings were based on a five-year study of 3,000 boys aged four to 18 in a youth hockey program in Burlington, Ontario. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Buffalo, found that 66 per cent of overall injuries were the result of accidents that happen during a game, such as colliding with teammates, sliding into the boards or posts or getting hit with the puck. The remaining 34 per cent were attributed to players checking each other. The researchers only took into account injuries serious enough to cause players to be off the ice for at least 24 hours. This begs the question…how many of the injuries not taken into account may have been concussions and not diagnosed? For the record, the findings of this study conflict with those of another study mentioned below. Regardless of whether most injuries are intentional or not, the sad and harsh reality is that minor hockey is plagued with a serious injury factor and bodychecking is responsible for a disproportionately large number of those injuries, including concussions.

A landmark study released on June 8 revealed that 11- and 12- year old hockey players in leagues that allow bodychecking are 2.5 times more likely to get hurt and 3.5 times more likely to suffer a concussion. In Quebec, players do not bodycheck until bantam ages (ages 13 to 14), and even then it is only introduced at the elite levels of the game. Pee wee (ages 11 and 12) is when bodychecking begins in Alberta. The joint University of Calgary, McGill University, and the University of Laval study tracked 2,200 pee wee hockey players from both provinces for the entire 2007-2008 season to measure injury frequency. The findings of this study were published in a recent edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.. This study suggests a case can be made for raising the bodychecking age and for limiting bodychecking leagues across the board. One of the researchers for this study, Dr.Carolyn Emery from the department of kinesiology at the University of Calgary has been quoted as saying: “Having a concussion increases your risk significantly of another concussion and some kids are dropping out of hockey because of concussions, fractures and other severe injuries.” Dr. Emery estimates that if bodychecking was not permitted in peewee hockey this would reduce the risk of injury by over 1,000 injuries and 400 concussions among the nearly 9,000 peewee level children playing hockey in Alberta

This study should serve as a wake-up call for those Canadians concerned with the health and safety of all players, especially minor leaguers, and the future of the game as we know it.

The consequences of traumatic hits to the head speak for themselves. Research done by Dr. Shree Bhalerao, director, medical psychiatry, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto and Deborah Pink, resident in psychiatry, University of Toronto reveals the following. Traumatic brain injuries, via hits to the head or bodies colliding against the boards or other bodies can cause: post-concussive symptoms, cognitive disorders, depression, personality changes, and substance abuse.

Indeed, an emotional debate has been raging for years about our national sport. Should body checking be allowed in minor hockey? According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 8,000 people were treated for hockey related injuries in Ontario hospital emergency rooms in the 2002-2003 seasons. Based on this rate, more than 25,000 people were injured across the country. In 93 cases of the 8,000, the casualty was admitted to hospital, 15 directly to critical care units.

Among young hockey players (18 and under) 62 percent of the injuries were a result of checking. Injuries caused by body checks were the most common in the 14 to 16 age group, after players have been exposed to body checking for several years.

The decision to allow body checking in minor hockey is unquestionably jeopardizing this wonderful sport and favourite pastime by turning it into our most dangerous game. It is easily argued this practice borders on child abuse. It certainly flies in the face of public health, safety, and injury prevention; it trumps medical science, commonsense, and civility.

Hockey is an inherently dangerous game. That said, when medical experts and safety advocates say evidenced-based research show injury-prevention and harm-reduction initiatives are good for the health and safety of the game and the players, everyone-hockey organizations, coaches, players, parents- should take note.

Emile Therien,
Public Health & Safety Advocate,
Past President, Canada Safety Council
Ottawa, Ontario
July 31, 2010.