Hockey season is back meaning dry-land training is going to be traded for more ice time as preparations for the first games are being finalized. It also means that 6 am practices, spending 5+ days at the rink, and the pressure of academics and hockey are back onto the kids.
Thinking back to my playing days, all I ever wanted to do was play games. As a kid and even as an adult who actually likes going to practice every day? Ok get on the line because you didn't make a tape-to-tape pass on that last breakout drill. Skate faster in a meaningless circle drill! I could never put together the importance of a practice while I was a kid. Now as an adult you realize that skill development does require time on the ice honing our skills but do we really need to overwhelm our kids that much?
Let's look at our adult sports leagues. It's all games and no practices and trust me not everyone has the skills to be playing games without practicing but we realize practice isn't fun. So why do we subject our kids to practicing 5x more than they play?
While I understand that there are going to be kids that want to develop their skills and become the best that they possibly can be, this is where AAA hockey comes in. What we need to consider is reinventing and reintroducing the house league. Travel hockey has become so watered down because everyone wants to be a "travel" player. In reality many of these AA programs are just house leagues that wanted the travel name. Now these kids who wanted to just play games every weekend and practice once a week are subjected to practicing like a AAA team but may lack in the skill development department.
Some of my best memories were made in house hockey and playing pond hockey where yes the wins still matter but there is much less pressure and the focus is on having fun and beating your buddies. It's a friendly place for competition where kids can go to have fun and that is what I believe is missing in today's hockey leagues. You can't possibly tell me that the kids will remember just another game against a travel team more than their time playing outdoor ice hockey at the Tim Hortons Backyard Classic. Case and Point.
It's that time of year again where spring/summer hockey comes to a close and the intense travel hockey schedule resumes. With that USA Hockey has released their latest rule changes which have brought about the most significant changes to the book since the introduction of the new Standard of Play Initiative. This year the focus is on continuing to develop skill rather than intimidation or physical play. The last time the rule change year came around it was a move that pushed the first year of hitting from PeeWee (12U) to Bantam (14U).
This year features a crackdown on illegal hitting. Many of the rule changes strengthened the minimal penalty time for those offenders who target the head or the back. Penalties such as boarding, charging, and head contact now carry minimum penalties of 2 minutes plus a 10 minute misconduct. This is up from just a 2 minute minor penalty for each offense.
Just as the NHL has cracked down on repeat offenders such as Patrick Kaleta, USA Hockey has introduced their own legislation which will take players off the ice for extended periods of time in an effort to change the player's ways. Some of these rules include changing a second 10 minute misconduct into an automatic game misconduct which can also carry a 1 game suspension in some leagues. The Progressive Suspension clause will deal with repeat offenders and assessing longer suspensions.
These efforts by USA Hockey, in addition to the continuation of the Mite hockey cross-ice program, are all to promote the skill development of young players. By not allowing players, especially those physically developed players, to hit has allowed smaller players to still fit in on the ice. This may allow future players to be like Danny Briere or Nathan Gerbe and overcome their size and experience success at a high level.
As always, the views on the new rules will be split. While I personally don't agree with them, the focus of USA Hockey is on player safety and with the abundance of concussions in the game today, perhaps delaying hitting and punishing those who break the rules significantly will help that number go down significantly.
Become a better fan and coach...try reading the rules!
My name is Nick Penberthy and am the Founder of the Tim Hortons Backyard Classic. Now after 5 years of running the THBYC we have raised over $30,000 for Hasek's Heroes.