August 31, 2011
Credit the Ontario Hockey League for being among the first rather than the last to change its rules to promote player safety. In a move that's pretty much hailed as wildly overdue, the OHL is mandating soft-cap padding for all of its players.
The Western Hockey League took a similar step in June, but with even less fanfare since it was announced on the afternoon of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. The move is consistent with the idea that in a game that is about continuous flow, body contact should be about checking, not hitting to hurt. Most people will probably focus on the likelihood of reducing concssuions, but perhaps the new equipment might act to cause players to limit the force behind their checks.
From The Canadian Press:
The league announced Wednesday that all players must wear soft cap shoulder and elbow pads for the upcoming season.
The change came after a review of safety issues and is designed to "limit the number of head injuries suffered each season," according to the league.
Popular hockey commentator Don Cherry has urged the NHL to adopt a similar rule for years during his "Coach's Corner" segment on "Hockey Night in Canada."
The OHL's board of governors has also vowed to hand out more punishment to players who repeatedly get caught throwing checks to the head.
It might seem like a subtle move, but it could have a bigger effect than initially realized.The CHL typically doesn't change policy across the board; typically, one league has a pilot project before it's adopted nationally. It's probably just a matter of when until the QMJHL will get on board.
There probably was a missed opportunity for the OHL and WHL in announcing this with a press release rather than having a press conference. With the National Hockey League being rather glacial in its approach to managing the inherent danger of the world's fastest team sport, there's a lot of P.R. points for major junior hockey in being the more progressive league.
The OHL also said it will "hand out more punishment to players who repeatedly get caught throwing checks to the head." The other change with regard to discipling bad behaviour is that any goaltender who leaves his crease to fight will receive an automatic two-game suspension. Some wags are calling it the Jonathan Roy rule after the former QMJHL goalie.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.