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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ban on bodychecks has Winnipeg hockey community buzzing

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HOCKEY rinks around Winnipeg were full of spring league games on Saturday but most of the talk wasn't focused on what was happening on the ice.

The hot topic among parents, coaches, referees and players was Hockey Canada's ruling on Saturday banning hitting for peewee and younger players.

Hockey dad Joey Harris said after seeing the number of injuries and concussions that young players were suffering this past season, he applauds the move.

"I don't think kids are prepared (for hitting). Eleven- and 12-year-olds are all different sizes and kids are growing at different rates. The non-contact will allow the skilled players to develop more and allow some kids whose skills are a little less to not worry about being hit," he said.

The players facing the biggest challenge are those born in 2001 who had hitting during the 2011-12 season but will have to ease up this fall and then resume hitting again in the fall of 2014.

"In the long run it will be better. It's tough in a transition year. I think grandfathering might have been better for the kids who were just getting used to hitting and have to switch for one year," he said.

Peter Woods, executive director of Hockey Manitoba, said he expects there will be some disappointment among higher-level players and their parents who were expecting to have hitting this upcoming season.

"Certainly there will be a level of backlash. The purists will think that's an important element of the game that should be maintained," he said, adding he believes Hockey Canada made a "responsible decision."

Pros and cons

Travis Brown, a 19-year-old defenceman for the Western Hockey League's Moose Jaw Warriors who is coaching the Manitoba Tornadoes 2000 this spring, said he can see the pros and cons to both sides.

"I think when hitting starts at the bantam level, there's a bigger size difference (among the players). I think kids should learn to give and receive hits when they're younger and a more similar size," he said.

Brown, a draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, said he expects 11- and 12-year-olds will be able to develop their puck-handling and skating skills at a faster rate if they don't have to worry about getting hit.

But he doesn't think the number of injuries among peewee players is out of the ordinary.

"I don't think they're heavy enough or move quickly enough to get (seriously) injured," he said.

-- Geoff Kirbyson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2013 B4

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