Confessions Of A Junior Hockey Coach – Player Safety Concern

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So much has been said these day about player safety that it has become a very hot discussion item.  Hits to the head, fighting, and rule changes in respect to how we protect the player is talked about all the time.

USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have implemented rules they think will protect the player from dangerous play.  This is a good thing yes?  What person would not want to make sure that players are safe on the ice and healthy for the rest of their lives when their hockey days are over?  The international hockey community if taking much of what Hockey Canada and USA Hockey are doing and implementing their own changes based on their guidance.

To be sure hockey is a physical game.  It has always been and will always be.  It is one of the components that makes the game so great, it is not just a battle of skill, but a battle of will and overcoming physical adversity.

Teams, players and parents spend millions of dollars every year on purchases of the newest and most protective equipment available.  It is as it should be.  Player safety must always come first.

Why then are some teams throughout all of North America risking player safety by putting incomplete teams on the ice to compete against complete teams?

To be sure, every team needs to have 20 players to compete at any junior hockey level.  The highest levels of junior hockey would never accept that a team play on the ice with less than three complete lines of players and two goaltenders.  A minimum standard of 15 skaters and 2 goaltenders is not un-realistic is it not?

But of course some wiggle room can be made for injury during long weekend series where a team may fall a player or two below such a minimum standard.  Injury happens yes?

If player safety is the concern though, why are teams and leagues allowing for sometimes ten skaters to take the ice as a team?  Why are teams, leagues and governing bodies allowing for teams to try to compete with rosters not even close to a minimum of 20 players?

When playing with such small numbers, the player is to become fatigued much more quickly. Fatigue leads to injury, and most times it is a more serious injury.  Any person who has spent any time in the hospital with a player will tell you how fatigue plays a part in many injuries.

When a player is on the ice every other shift for 60 minutes, his on the bench recovery time is not enough to maintain energy levels.  When energy levels are depleted, the mind becomes less focussed.  Over the course of just one weekend that fatigue and reduced mental focus will eventually lead to injury.

I question the wisdom of many teams throughout the United States and Canada that are moving forward without at least 20 players on their rosters.  It is not only the Tier III teams in the United States but is some teams in Canada as well.

Is it so important to collect the player fee in Tier III, Junior B or other level that you risk short and long-term health of the player?  Is it so important to play game that some would cast aside minimum accepted standards?  What do that say about the organization that allow this to happen?

When will the organization say that player safety is more important than the money?  The team that does this is based in integrity.  Who will be the first to prove the integrity?  Who will be the first to have player seriously injured due to their lack of integrity?  Which governing body will be the first to come down on the team who does not meet the minimum standard?

The parent and player must also examine how desperate they are to compete on a team with not the minimum amount of players that allow for safe play.  Would you allow a player to compete with a broken leg?  If the answer is no, then how would you allow a team to compete with a roster that may risk players to injury.  A roster that does not meet minimum acceptable standards is no different from a player with the broken leg.  They should not be allowed on the ice.

Coach