So you might have heard me mention that USA Hockey is looking at moving the introduction of body checking from the Peewee level (11 and 12 years old) to the Bantam level (13 and 14 years old). There has been lots of talk about this around the rink. I'm going to lay out the arguments against the move first, and then I'll talk about the arguments in favor.
1. Bantam kids are a lot larger than PeeWee's.
The kids at the PeeWee level don't skate as fast, and are not as big as the kids at the Bantam level. By introducing checking at the Bantam level you are making kids who haven't been checked before have to endure more punishment. Included in this is the 'Canada introduces checking at the 7-8 year old level.' This allows the kid to get used to body contact before they are big enough, or strong enough to cause real damage.
2. American teams will not able to play against Canadian teams because of the difference in rules.
3. The lack of checking will put American kids behind developmentally, and they won't be able to catch up.
Argument's in Favor:
1. Introducing full contact later allows kids to develop better skating abilities.
2. Older brains are less likely to be concussed then younger brains. Terribly worded. What that means is that concussions are potentially more serious at younger levels. Older brains are better able to absorb a check. (There are some interesting studies involving hockey leagues in Ontario that start checking sooner, and Quebec where checking is introduced later that seem to bear this out.)
3. In order to allow for a more gradual transition into body checking, coaches will introduce body contact at the Mite level (7 and 8 years old), which will be reinforced and expanded upon at the Squirt level (9 and 10 years old). Body checking will be taught at the PeeWee level (but not allowed in games). This will allow plenty of time to learn how to both give and take a hit.
I think both sides make interesting points and in my mind it comes down to this. If the point of USA Hockey is to provide a fertile training ground for the NHL then I think the choice is a no brainer. You introduce body checking at the Mite level. The smaller, slower moving Mites do not pose a significant threat to the well being of other Mites. Think dominoes falling rather than bowling pins flying after a 16 pound ball comes down the lane. The sooner kids learn to protect themselves, the better off they will be.
The point of USA Hockey, however, is not to provide future players to the NHL. Statistically speaking fewer then 1 kid in 30,000 will progress from youth hockey into the NHL. For these kids there should never be a need to "deliver a blow", or "finish a check".
The reason to deliver a body check is to separate the puck from the body of the puck carrier. It is not to punish, or intimidate the other team. The Mite A team that played in Cam's league this year provides a good example of how body contact (not checking) and good angling can provide great results. This is what USA Hockey proposes to teach at the Mite through Squirt and PeeWee levels. To me, this is what hockey at the youth level should be. Hitting a skilled player hard into the boards because he keeps getting around you should not be what youth hockey is about. That's the way the pro's play.
We'll see what happens come June. I'll let you know. In the mean time if you have any questions that I can answer let me know. Post a comment and I'll respond. If you have anything else that you would like me to pontificate on let me know that too.