‘No Protection’: Early Bodychecking Doesn’t Prevent Hockey Injuries, Study Finds – DiscoverHumboldt.com

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Introducing young hockey players to body checking at an early age doesn’t protect them from injury when they move to older, more competitive leagues, a new study finds.

In fact, the opposite might be true, said Paul Eliason of the University of Calgary, lead author of a new article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

“More body checking experience doesn’t protect you from injuries and concussions,” he said. “Injury and concussion rates were actually significantly higher in those who had more body checking experience.”

The study, conducted in collaboration with Hockey Canada and hockey organizations in Edmonton and Calgary, was conducted in response to decisions by most Canadian hockey associations to ban body checks until players reach the age of 15. Some feared the move would create more injuries, as players at this level would be forced to deal with physical contact without having learned how to score in lower leagues.

Eliason and his colleagues looked at data from thousands of shifts played by hundreds of hopeful Connor McDavids and Sidney Crosbys at rinks in both small towns and big cities.

The team has compiled information from 941 players, some of whom have competed for more than one season. The data includes both boys and girls, but not from all-girls leagues where body checking is not allowed.

They compared injuries in young players aged 15 to 17 with little bodycheck experience and those with at least three years of experience. The differences were stark.

Children at this level who were expert body checkers sustained more than 2 1/2 times more injuries than non-checkers.

Serious injury rates were even higher. Collisions that left children out of the game for at least seven days or left them with a concussion were 2.7 times more likely among those who had played in contact leagues.

The results were consistent for forwards and defenders. The size of the player made little difference.

“We were a bit surprised that (the rates) were so much higher than those with less bodycheck experience,” Eliason said.

Eliason said part of that difference could be a result of these players’ higher speeds and skills.

“That would not be fully captured by the game levels in our analysis.”

But he said the injury rates were too different to have been caused entirely by those factors.

“The realization has to be that body checking experience is not protective,” Eliason said.

Hockey culture has changed since the first research on kids and bodychecking was published about a decade ago, Eliason said.

“Ten years ago it was almost blasphemous to say that.”

But he said his research has been welcomed by Hockey Canada, Hockey Calgary, the Airdrie Minor Hockey Association and Hockey Edmonton, all of whom have seen the results. Eliason said the research shows the groups made the right move by banning the youngest players from full contact.

“It’s important to keep showing the research. That’s why the hockey communities have been so eager to collaborate with this research to show that their decisions are correct and they are making evidence-based decisions that improve the safety of the game.”

Hockey Calgary director Kevin Kobelka said his group supported the results.

“Since the elimination of body checking, we’ve seen an increased focus on skill and a higher level of play in (U13) hockey,” he said in an email. “We are confident that those who wish to participate in bodychecking streams will learn the skills when they reach this category.

“The key is developing our coaches to teach those skills properly when needed.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 20, 2022.

– Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

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