Hockey Safety Issue: Playing It Safe

When It Comes To Safety, It’s Everyone’s Job To Protect Our Kids

They pop out of the locker room, covered from head to toe in plastic shells and protective padding, fierce looking little gladiators ready for battle. Underneath all that armor, it’s hard to imagine that anything could possibly happen to them.

But what makes hockey such a great game to play and so much fun to watch — the speed, intensity, non-stop action and physicality — also opens players up to the risk of injury.

Which leads to ask the age-old question, are we doing enough to make hockey a safer sport?

From endorsing tougher equipment standards and rule changes to providing better education for coaches and officials, USA Hockey never stops trying to make the game safer at every level.

But no rule will keep our players safe if not properly enforced. No piece of gear, no matter how cutting edge, will protect players if not fitted properly and worn correctly. No amount of coaching education will help if it falls on deaf ears.

Keeping our kids protected in a safe environment while holding true to all the things that make our game so much fun is the responsibility of everyone, from players to parents, coaches to officials.


When it comes to teaching players how to play the right way, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of coaches. Do you preach good sportsmanship or encourage a culture of intimidation? Do you shout words of encouragement and instruction from your perch behind the bench or spew vile and venom toward officials and opposing players?

Remember, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If a coach loses his cool on the bench, why would anyone think his players would act any different when they step on the ice?

 “Kids need to be encouraged to compete the right way at a young age,” said Kevin McLaughlin, senior director of hockey development at USA Hockey.

“It’s a philosophy that a coach has and instills in his team. We want to play hard, we want to play fast, we want to play aggressive, we want to compete, but we’re not here to hurt anybody.”

Preaching proper sportsmanship and respect for opponents, the game and themselves is only part of the role of every coach. Promoting skill development and teaching on-ice awareness and hockey sense throughout the season will also help players avoid dangerous situations.

It’s also important that coaches of all age groups work on skills such as angling, body contact and puck protection long before their players progress to an age when legal body checking becomes part of the game.


“Don’t rush the kid back to playing. at a young age, kids may not have  always done rehab and then, they’re likely to get hurt again.”

Rules are in place for a reason. They keep the game flowing and discourage players from making dangerous plays that put others at risk. But what good are rules if they are not enforced?
Referees play a crucial role in creating a safe environment on the ice.

Dealing with acts of intimidation and aggression has been a constant battle for officials over the years, so much so that USA Hockey’s officiating program has made it a point of emphasis to put the focus back on skill on the ice.

“There’s really a concerted effort organizationally on the part of the hockey department to change the culture on the ice,” said Matt Leaf, USA Hockey’s director of officiating.

To help steer things in the right direction, Leaf said that USA Hockey created a new online officiating curriculum that includes a safety in ice hockey presentation in addition to a concussion awareness presentation and several topics to covering the points of emphasis and standards of play to further educate the sport’s top cops.

This season, penalties such as charging, boarding, checking from behind and head contact will now yield a two-minute minor penalty as well as a 10-minute misconduct.

And for those players who don’t get the message the first time, USA Hockey has implemented a progressive suspension rule that places greater emphasis on ridding the game of the types of dangerous plays that too often lead to injury.

“We want to eliminate that culture of intimidation,” Leaf said.


Let’s face it, hockey equipment is not cheap, and we all know that kids grow so fast that they’re likely to outgrow their gear before the end of the season. Still, buying oversized protective equipment so it will last more than one season is a dangerous proposition.

A common mistake some parents make is to buy equipment to last several years. One year the pads may be too big and another they’re too tight. That leaves only a short time when equipment fits, and performs, like it should.

Should your son or daughter sustain an injury, it’s important to bring them to a certified medical provider.

Seeking proper treatment and following return-to-play protocol are necessary steps to ensuring a player doesn’t sustain a similar injury or aggravate the previous one.

“Don’t rush the kid back to playing,” suggests Chad Eickhoff, coordinator of Athletic Training and Strength and Conditioning Services at the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center.

“A lot of times at a young age, kids may not have always done rehab and then, they’re likely to get hurt again. It’s making sure that they’ve been doing their rehab and regaining their full strength, balance and whatever else they might need to return to full performance.”

And while hockey is a physical and emotional game, it’s important that mom and dad keep their cool when watching from the stands. Remember, this is still youth hockey, and you’re supposed to be the adult.


No matter how well a coach delivers his or her message, how positive a parent cheers from the stands or how well an official keeps the peace on the ice, it is ultimately the player’s responsibility to compete within the rules and treat their opponents and the game with respect.

It is also a player’s responsibility to report an injury, especially a possible concussion, to their coach and parents. Even in hockey’s “tough guy” culture, there is never a good reason to run the risk of suffering a second and more severe concussion.

Remember, there will always be one more shift, one more period and one more game to play. It’s all a matter of being smart and playing safe.



Top Photograph by Kevin White


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