Hockey is a contact sport. Is there an element of danger to the game? Certainly. Is the risk of injury warrant a change to the game? I don't think so.
What we do need is better enforcement of the existing rules in the book and maybe a bit of clarification for the changes between each of the levels. I'd like for all sanctioned hockey to eventually operate under the same rulebook because doing so would facilitate better overall enforcement.
"You are absolutely right, it would make our job much easier if there was a standardization of the rules across all levels from pee-wee to the pros," an anonymous USA Hockey referee said on Monday. "Our on-ice officials also need to be more consistent and not make calls in the third that were waved off in the first period."
"It is like we have to adjust our game to how lenient the referee is going to be or not," added an Alberta Junior Hockey League coach. "Life would be much easier if the enforcement was black and white and not a constant amount of shading in between."
Would better enforcement of the rules have changed the outcome for the catastrophic hit on Jack Jablonski? I don't think so. There is a much greater risk when driving to a game or practice than the actual participation. The same goes for other contact sports like football.
Players are bigger, stronger, and faster than at any other time in the history of the game. As a sport, we need to teach our prospects to respect the game. Going all out at an opponent from the blind side, just because a player can, is a sign of a lack of respect for the game. It should also be included in the definition for Intent to Injure.
I am all for great open ice checking, playing the body so a line-mate can win the puck, and hitting in all three zones. All of that can be accomplished without ending a guy's career. The physical side of the game can be as exciting as a multi-goal outburst. We need to teach our players to hit properly and fairly. It seems as though we have exchanged the art of the body check for the NFL style of blowing up an opponent.
The powers at USA Hockey decided to delay the proper instruction of checking until the bantam level of play. By that time, it may be just too late to knock a bit of sense into our players. There is nothing like the fear of a big hit to keep a player's stick off the cage. These kids have so much protection that they have lost respect for the game.
It is not too late to fix the problem, but I have to believe that we are going to continue down the road of even more protection, and even more rules, and that is a shame.