OHS Canada Magazine

Violent hockey culture, rules in need of a change: report

TORONTO (Canadian OH&S News)

TORONTO (Canadian OH&S News)

The good ol’ hockey game might not be that good after all, a recent study suggests. Canada’s pastime has historically been a rough game — but new research is calling for changes to hockey rules as a means to reduce the risk of injuries on the ice.

Published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in December, “Effectiveness of interventions to reduce aggression and injuries among ice hockey players: a systematic review” linked harsher penalties and rule changes to the reduction of aggression and injuries amongst hockey players — from junior leagues all the way up to professional franchises.

Researchers concluded that strict penalties and limiting or eliminating body checking reduced the rate of injuries on the ice three- to 12-fold. As well, the study also looked into educational programs and incentives for good sportsmanship, but found that rudimentary changes were the most effective method in mitigating aggression.

Their report could not have come sooner, said Michael Cusimano, the study’s lead author. Cusimano works as a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.


“It says something about the culture of things going on at all levels of hockey right now that needs to change to make the game safer,” Cusimano explained.

“In terms of their own safety, those players in the NHL have the highest rates of injury of any players in hockey,” he said. “Because they’re getting the highest rates of injury, it would make sense that because they want to reduce their occupational health risk, they should look clearly at rules and enforcement of rules that have significant implications for players that would make player safety better.”

Cusimano cited the infamous Todd Bertuzzi incident as one particularly telling case study. In 2004, Bertuzzi — then playing with the Vancouver Canucks — violently checked Colorado Avalanche player Steve Moore from behind during a game. Moore suffered three fractured neck vertebrae, facial cuts and a concussion — and has not played since.

Cusimano said that his team looked at 50 games prior to and after Bertuzzi was criminally charged, and discovered that such severe penalties indicated a reduction in aggression on the ice for games following the attack.

According to the NHL rulebook, there are strict regulations in place to protect players. For instance, Rule 48: Illegal Check to the Head dictates that “A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted.”

Changes to national game not expected soon

Despite being welcomed by Hockey Canada, the governing body for minor and national teams in the country, fundamental changes to the way the game is played is a far way off.

Paul Carson, the vice-president of hockey development, explained that the organization already has methods in place to limit injuries and concussions on the ice, such as a zero-tolerance policy for head contact.

“It’s multi-factoral,” Carson said. “There are so many issues at play. Risk compensation, you look at the aggressive play, risk-taking behaviours and the feeling of invincibility because of hockey equipment. In the women’s program, where there is no body checking but there is incidental contact and certainly aggressive play, there’s also a high rate of injuries.”


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6 Comments » for Violent hockey culture, rules in need of a change: report
  1. mike says:

    The Todd Bertuzzi incident was not a check from behind it was an attack, that is why he was criminally charged. That incident alone has given hockey a black eye, but recent rule changes ie hits to the head have changed hockey dramatically. The game is much bigger and faster than what it was even ten years ago, the game can adapt but if body contact is removed from the game it then becomes basketball.

  2. Steve O'Shaughnessy says:

    The Checking to the Head call (as it is in Minor Hockey) should be applied at all levels. If you contact the head, you are penalized accordingly, even if it is just a “face wash”.

    The Canadian Lacrose Association has recently put in place additional penalties to help eliminate Fighting in our game as well. If you Fight, you are removed from the game, even at the Major Lacrosse levels. (previously only a major penalty was called)

  3. Terry Hanna says:

    Baseball? Where’s the ball? Last time I watched a game it was a puck. You remove body contact, the game becomes much faster due to the removal of one step when the puck goes in the corner(not the ball) it’s a smooth sweep of the puck from the corner thus removing the goon banging adding finesse to the game. At the end of the day it means the players can go home to their family with their melon intact to carry on life in a normal manner.

  4. mike says:

    reply to terry hanna
    maybe goon banging has impaired your ability to read, my comment compaired hockey without body contact to BASKETBALL, where a slap on the hand is a foul.

  5. Scott says:

    Hockey is a PHYSICAL game combined with speed, skill and finesse. If you want to reduce injuries, and owners really want to appear human on their reasons behind lock-outs, lowering of salaries and making the game better, for-go a few seats (that according to statistics aren’t filled anyway) and enlarge the ice surface.
    Non head-targeted open ice hits have long been admired and few injuries are suffered due to them, albeit when there is an injury, it can be catastrophic. Examples like the hit Hossa received come to mind and while in the OLD days, that hit would have been admired and replayed over and over again as a how-to, it is now viewed as a dirty check due to contact with the head. One of the most admired hitters in the game, Scott Stevens of the New Jersey Devils would be banished from the game today for many of his open ice hits, i.e., the hit to Lindros that for all intents and purposes, finished his career.
    A fatal hit in 1980 to Trevor Elton, the then captain of the Sherwood Park Crusaders in the Western Hockey League occurred, and while there may have been other contributing factors, the “hit” which was not a headshot but a shoulder to the chest from a Saint Albert Saint that went on to a NHL career, resulted in the death of a very promising young man.
    I credit hockey for looking internally and yes there are means and ways to reduce injuries as there are in ANY job, but to change the fundamentals of the way the job is performed, should not be changed.
    Injuries are a part of the game, as they are in ALL sports including the can’t wait for:

  6. danny says:

    My son is 11, played hockey from the age of 4. Always a top Goal scorer, finess player. A real joy to watch.

    He entered his checking year (AGE 11.. Minor Peewee AA).

    So far this year he has been to the hospital 3 times. The last time in an ambulance with a concussion. He’s out for the year.

    Next year we have him out of competitive hockey to join the Toronto Non Contact League.

    As a hockey dad… I can tell you that checking is killing this sport. The parents of greatly skilled players are saying no way to risking their kids for a sport.

    The odds of making it to the NHL where you can earn any kind of real money is 1 in 6000…. and thats if you are on the top 3 AAA teams.

    Checking is causing our game to be slow, with less goals.

    Spectators would rather goals and finess rather than checking or fighting.

    It’s comming our way anyways… Look at what all the leagues are doing to eliminate concussions and increasing goals in a game in the past few years.

    Canada needs speed and finess, with precision shooting if it is going to win on a global stage.

    We’ll get their.

    The only people looking for violent hits are the old fogeys who used to play hockey at slower speeds and lightly padded equipment.

    Today, at 11, with todays hockey equipment and the speed of the game, you could cripple a good for good.

    I’ve been a coach for a couple of years and have seen countless of injuries, but a concussion… That is really scary, symtoms like getting dizzy or getting head aches, just doing nothing.

    I’m sure it’ll all get figured out. Hopefully not to many kids get too badly hurt in the process.

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