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University of Ottawa and CHEO study urges Hockey Canada to raise age of bodychecking for kids

A recent review conducted by the University of Ottawa and CHEO is calling on Hockey Canada to reconsider the age at which kids are introduced to body contact in hockey.

While the recommendation aims to enhance safety, it has been met with opposition from some hockey families.

William Maguire, 13, recalls suffering a concussion just over a year ago during a collision on the ice.

“Yeah, we’re skating pretty fast and then we collided hard,” Maguire said. “I don’t know if my head hit the ice or if it was the contact from the hit.”

Since then, he’s left competitive hockey to focus on other sports, like volleyball.

Cherill Baynham, Maguire’s mother, shared her concerns about his wellbeing.

“He’s worried about not being able to play, but I’m worried about him being able to go to school, to listen, to be able to concentrate, read, and actually participate in daily life. So it is worrisome,” she said.

The joint research from Dr. Kristian Goulet, a paediatrician from the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine, and CHEO, suggests raising the age of body contact from 13 to 15.

“Any sort of brain injury is a trauma, right?” says Goulet. “And, you know, it’s not just the concussion. It’s not just the brain; it’s every aspect of their life that can be affected.”

Goulet also says holding off two years can prevent major injuries.

“If we can delay body contact to the 15-year-olds as opposed to allowing 13- and 14-year-olds body contact, that is going to have a huge positive ramifications on injury rates, both concussions and otherwise in Canadian youth,” said Goulet.

However, this recommendation isn’t universally supported. John Chabot, an NHL alumni, cautioned against entirely eliminating body contact, arguing that learning safe hitting techniques is essential to prevent future concussions.

“To take it out completely, though, is not the way to go. You’re just asking for concussions later on,” says Chabot. “If they’re Triple A, Midget Triple A, going into junior and their full contact, at least they have an understanding what contact is about. At that point, if they’re introduced at 15, they won’t have an understanding and then you’re asking for injuries.”

And other hockey parents with young players agree. Start them young so they learn to protect themselves at a young age.

“I think at age 13 they should learn how to control themselves,” says hockey mom Jailing Wu. “I think that that’s okay for them to have a little bit of body contact.”

Hockey dad Neil Henderson adds, “You have to know how to get hit as well, safely. I think 15 might be a little late.”

And Fiona Whalna, a 12-year-old hockey player also prepared for contact next year when she turns 13.

“When you’re 15 you’re older and larger,” says Fiona. “You weigh more so it’s just going to make the injury worse. But when you’re younger you can learn to avoid it so then when it gets more dangerous you can avoid it better.”

In a statement to CTV News, Hockey Canada said it relies on research to ensure players develop skills to be confident on the ice.

“Hockey Canada and its Members removed bodychecking from the U13 level (formerly Peewee) starting in the 2013-14 season to provide consistency across the country while prioritizing the development and safety of young players,” it said.

“Hockey Canada appreciates and welcomes the important work performed by Dr. Goulet and others. We are engaged with our key stakeholders on an ongoing basis regarding ways to make the game safer for our participants, with the assistance of our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Mark Aubry, who helped develop the Hockey Canada Safety Program and has been a leader in the research of concussions and spinal cord injuries.”

As for William Maguire, he’s planning on getting back on the ice later this year, contact and all.

“I was bit nervous, but I’m also excited and wanting to learn so people don’t get injured,” says Maguire. “But I think it’s a big part of the game and I want to learn how to how to engage contact in my play.” 

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