Officials play a very important role and it really is critical that our on-ice officials enforce the USA Hockey standard of play in all areas of the game, including body contact and body checking.
No one wants to see anyone get hurt on the ice. As officials, it’s our job to make sure players, coaches and fans are in a safe (and fun) environment.
But even then, there is only so much we can do to ensure that safety. Luckily, the responsibility isn’t solely ours. New safety initiatives and focuses at USA Hockey have helped cradle on-going efforts to ensure the safest possible environment for everyone involved in the game.
We caught up with Kevin Margarucci, USA Hockey’s manager of player safety, to hear what’s being done to keep the game, and everyone involved in it, safer.
Q: What are some of the new initiatives that USA Hockey has implemented pertaining to overall player safety?
Kevin Margarucci: Safety is our top priority at USA Hockey and we are always working on ways to make the game safer for everyone involved, both on and off the ice. One of the significant changes coming next season is an update to our concussion management program.
In short, for a player suspected of having a concussion, USA Hockey will require a return to play document signed by a physician. Some states already require that as a return to play standard, but many don’t. In those states where that isn't a requirement, a parent could just go up to a coach and say, 'Yeah. We went to the doctor. He's fine.' That's it. We don't necessarily know if they ever got evaluated. As the national governing body, we felt it was important to have a consistent return to play standard across the country.
Q: Body checking has always been a hot button issue. What are the current standards for body checking at the youth level?
Margarucci: At the 12U level and below, the standard is body contact during games, with legal body checking during games being allowed at the 14U level and above. Our emphasis is on teaching kids that giving a body check and receiving a body check is a skill. We really want to put an emphasis on that and emphasize the progression from body contact into body checking. That said, while body checking is not allowed at the 12U level in games, it’s important that coaches teach body checking during practice at 12U so that the kids are prepared for the next level.
Q: How important of a role do officials play in how they patrol body checking during games?
Margarucci: Officials play a very important role and it really is critical that our on-ice officials enforce the USA Hockey standard of play in all areas of the game, including body contact and body checking.
That said, the onus is just not on officials. It’s important that our coaches and parents understand, teach and support the USA Hockey standard of play. We need to continue to educate all stakeholders involved in the game about the standard of play and ensure that respect is a central mindset in how we play, coach, officiate and administer the game.
Q: Obviously these kids are watching the NHL on TV. How important is it to teach kids that mimicking some of the hits they see from their idols on TV isn't necessarily the best way to go about it at the youth level?
Margarucci: The good news is that all of hockey, including the NHL, is working to eliminate dangerous hits and plays. The size and strength of players in the NHL is much different than youth hockey and the game is extremely fast which can result in some significant collisions. It’s important for youth hockey players (and coaches, parents, officials and fans) to learn what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of body contact/body checking and to know there are things they may see at the NHL level that are not appropriate in youth hockey.
Q: Can you tell us about your involvement with the Concussion Legacy Foundation?
Margarucci: Sure. There's a relatively new initiative through the Concussion Legacy Foundation that we’ve supported called Team Up, Speak Up. It’s focus is to let players know it is OK to, and that they should, speak up for a teammate who may have a concussion and report to a coach, parent, doctor or athletic trainer. At the end of the day it is a simple and straight forward program that can have a significant impact and we’re happy to be involved