Anyone who watched the Stanley Cup Final -- or any stage of the NHL playoffs, for that matter -- can attest to the importance of aggressive checking. It's an essential part of a physical game, and is often part of what makes people fall in love with hockey in the first place.
Yet, if USA Hockey has its way, American hockey players won't have the opportunity to learn those skills for a longer period of their youth, with the organization's 92-member board facing a vote on a resolution that would ban checking in pee wee hockey nationwide.
Naturally, such a controversial policy decision would rapidly change the development of the game in the U.S. Peewee hockey is competed by players aged 11-12, with the next level -- bantam hockey -- played only by 13 and 14 year-olds. From that point on, athletes compete at the high school and junior level, where top prospects are streamlined into the professional ranks.
While the proposal is intended to make the sport safer for young hockey players, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that a number of serious concerns have been raised about how the ban on checking would affect both players' health and developmental issues for the sport.
According to the Star-Tribune, these four concerns have been most prominent among the ones raised by youth hockey coaches and opponents of the ban on peewee checking, Minnesota Hockey among them:
• Girls would stay in boys' hockey two more years, hurting the overall development of the girls' game.
• Non-USA Hockey sanctioned programs will continue to check.
• There is insufficient time for players, coaches, officials and parents to adapt.
• Peewee coaches might not teach checking in practices, which would increase injuries among bantam players.
That last point seems to be the most controversial, and what is both driving and holding back the potential changes. On the one hand, proponents of peewee checking raise the specter of more dire injuries at the bantam and junior level.
Opponents, meanwhile, point to more scientific studies that site an increased risk of concussions when checking is allowed among peewee players.
"I personally love the physical part of the game of hockey," Dr. Michael Stuart, U.S.A. Hockey's Chief Medical officer told the Star-Tribune. "[But] numerous studies document significant risks of injuries, including concussions, in leagues that allow body checking at the peewee level."
So, who's right? That seems unlikely to be determined for some time to come, even after checking is either banned or approved for the foreseeable future on Saturday.
"A big part of what they are talking about is discrepancies in size and strength [in peewees]," Wyzata bantam coach Marc Sorenson told the Star-Tribune. "All they are doing is delaying the problem. We'd be much better served to put more holistic effort into proper technique, how to check. I know what a daunting task that is. The coaches' abilities and experience is all over the board."