Why Rule Changes in Youth Hockey Don't Help the NHL

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Why Rule Changes in Youth Hockey Don't Help the NHL
Sidney Crosby's stellar season was cut short because of the concussion he sustained during the Winter Classic.

Over the past few years, one recurring problem in the NHL has been the amount of hits to the head. With the awareness of concussions reaching new levels, and with star players missing extended periods of time as a result of concussions (most notably Sidney Crosby), the league has tried to eliminate head shots with stricter suspensions, and the creation of Rule 48 which prohibits "lateral or blindside hits where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact."

Like the NHL, youth hockey has been making changes to try to make the game safer for its players. A few months ago, USA Hockey raised the age for legal body checking from 11 years old (peewee level) to 13 years old (bantam level). However, while these changes make the game safer for the years that the players are 11 and 12, some have argued that they will be a disservice in the long run.

Around the time that USA Hockey was contemplating its rule changes, ESPN's show Outside the Lines held a panel with three former players who are still involved in the game: Kris King (Senior VP of Hockey Operations for the NHL), Matthew Barnaby (NHL Analyst for ESPN and youth hockey coach) and Mark Messier (creator of the Cascade M11 helmet).

Although they acknowledged the dangers of the game that come with checking, they also stated that the sooner the players learn to check properly and learn to play with hitting as part of the game, the more aware they will be.

According to King, even players today at the NHL level are getting injured because they either weren't taught properly how to deliver or receive a check. Barnaby stated that a lot of concussions both in youth hockey and the NHL are the results of the players putting themselves in vulnerable positions.

No matter what changes are made to the rules, hockey is a contact sport and head injuries are going to occur with the speed at which the game is played. However, for players who are looking to play beyond youth hockey, the sooner they learn how to deliver and receive a check properly, the less likely they are of sustaining a serious injury.

While the rule changes made will lower the chances of injury in youth hockey, the actually increase the chances of injury with each higher level of hockey. 

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