It is time for the lip service regarding player safety to end. It is time for USA Hockey, to get serious about enacting and enforcing standards for all Tier III or pay to play team roster sizes.
When CTE and other concussion related discussions are taking center stage around the world in every sport, our sport has virtually no rules or standards regarding active roster size minimums, or game roster size minimums. If you are not shocked by that, you should be.
Under current USA Hockey rules a junior team can take the ice with 6 players if they want. Think about that. Proof is available that currently some teams are playing games with as few as 8 skaters! It is really happening.
Rule 201 of the Junior Hockey playing rules regarding rosters states teams can take the ice with as few as 6 players and the game is only a forfeit if a team goes below 4 players. Its on Page 33 of the rules. That’s it. That’s all USA Hockey says on the matter in the Official Rule Book.
Teams play with low roster numbers because USA Hockey really can not control all the Tier III expansion that’s taken place. The Junior Council which is made up of junior team owners and commissioners, simply approves expansion when ever they want.
That governance profile is akin to letting Wall Street bankers make the Securities and Exchange Commission rules regarding insider trading. The only people that would get into hot water would be the competitors of those that were in charge.
USA Hockey has a duty to protect athletes at every level. They make the rules. Where there are no rules that directly impact player safety there is an obligation to enact rules and standards. Based upon this, TJHN would propose the following rules and minimum standards be enacted at the winter meeting;
Tier III Protected Lists would be required to be updated monthly throughout the months of July and August. By the first day of July all Tier III teams would be required to have 12 players signed and protected on that list, only 2 of which may be goalies.
By the first day of August, all Tier III teams would be required to have 17 players signed and protected on that list, only 2 of which may be goalies.
By the start of the Tier III teams regular season, all teams would be required to have 20 players signed and protected, only 3 of which may be goalies.
Any team not meeting these standards on these dates will automatically have their USA Hockey sanctioning terminated.
Additionally no game shall ever be played at the Junior Hockey level with fewer than 15 skaters and 2 goaltenders.
If at any time, for more than a three game stretch during the season that any team can not meet the 15 skater and 2 goaltender standard, that team shall have its USA Hockey sanctioning terminated.
These simple and reasonable standards and rules would put a structure in place that would hold teams and leagues accountable for player safety and quality of play.
These simple and reasonable standards would get rid of teams that really have no business in the business to begin with. It would place responsibility at the feet of those who are directly responsible for their own business.
It is only a matter of time before some young man gets permanently injured because he was played too much and was too tired to be mentally focused when the injury took place. It is not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when”.
There is no other level of hockey that would allow a game to take place with young men having these types of roster numbers. The NCAA wouldn’t let it happen. Neither would a good Midget program. I have seen games cancelled because of low roster numbers due to illness or injury.
Why is Tier III given a pass on these standards? Why are there no real rules?
Clearly there are not enough players to sustain Tier III expansion. Everyone knows it, even the league operators know it. Yet, every year, more Tier III teams are added to the problem.
By enacting these rules, and standards, USA Hockey could take the politics out of the expansion process. Leagues could add all the teams they wanted. Once minimum standards are not met, decertification is automatic. Easy process. Every new team owner would know what is at stake before he purchased his franchise.
Transparency, standards and enforcement. Isn’t that what USA Hockey is responsible for anyway?
Joseph Kolodziej – Publisher