A Winning Equation

Sportsmanship + Respect = A Safer Game

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.

What makes hockey such a great game to play and so much fun to watch – the speed, intensity, non-stop action and physicality – also makes it open to the risk of injury.

From tougher equipment standards to stricter rule enforcement to better coaching education, USA Hockey is always trying to make the game safer at every level.

But no rule will keep players safe if it’s not properly enforced. No piece of gear, no matter how cutting edge, will protect them 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. It takes a team effort to make the game as safe as possible.

And it all boils down to one word: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.


Teaching players how to play the right way is a responsibility that rests 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 do you 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. Teaching proper skills, such as skating and stickhandling, along with developing hockey sense will help players avoid putting themselves in vulnerable positions. It’s also important that coaches of all age groups work on skills such as angling, body contact and puck protection long before they progress to an age when legal body checking becomes part of the game.


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 have 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.

Removing intimidation and dangerous plays, such as hits from behind, has gone a long way toward creating a safer environment for all players.


Hockey is a physical and emotional game, but it’s important that mom and dad keep their cool when watching from the stands. Cheering a big hit more than a nice play or constantly berating the referee does little more than fan the flames. 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 play the game the right way.

There’s little question that the game is headed in the right direction, thanks in large part to the symposiums, coaching clinics and educational initiatives that are keep safety issues on the front burner.

“We have made a lot of progress,” said USA Hockey’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Stuart. “But, at the same time, we have a long way to go. You’re not going to totally eliminate the risk of injury in ice hockey. But, based on all the information that’s out there, we can focus on prevention and make a big difference.”

And it all starts with one simple word:




Keep Your Protective Gear Clean And In Good Working Condition To Maximize Its Life And Usefulness

Does the protective padding inside your helmet look more like petrified tree bark? Do the palms of your gloves look like they’ve been in a battle with a swarm of moths, and lost? If your shoulder pads and shin pads like belong in the Smithsonian instead of your hockey bag, it may be time for some new gear.

Dr. Alan Ashare, the head of USA Hockey’s Safety & Protective Equipment Committee and the president of the Hockey Equipment Certification Council, offers a few pointers of when it’s time to head to your local pro shop. 

Helmet: HECC certifies helmets up to seven years from the day they are manufactured. It’s important to check the certification sticker on the back of a helmet.

Gloves: Gloves can be used as long as they are not torn. You are also advised to NOT cut the palms out of your gloves in order to extend their life.

Shoulder/knee pads and shin guards: These also do not have a specific life span. These can be used until they are broken or torn.

Skates: The lifespan of a pair of skates often depends on how many times they are sharpened. Of course you can replace the blade, but it’s usually the case with younger players that they outgrow their skates before they become unusable.

Mouthguards: It is important that your mouthguard covers all of the top or bottom part of your mouth. It is also recommended that you have a form-fitted mouthguard provided by a dentist instead of the boil-and-bite kind.

Note: As of December 2016, HECC only has specific guidelines for the lifespan of helmets. The organization is in the process of developing guidelines for other pieces of equipment.



Hockey parents have certain expectations from coaches, organizations and rinks. 

First and foremost is that our kids have fun playing the game that they love. Other common expectations are that our kids learn and grow each season, they are taught sportsmanship and fair play, have a good time with friends, stay in good shape and be safe.

Although I don’t consider injuries to be an expectation, as a parent of an active child I am aware of the risks associated with playing any sport. As my son has grown, I also know that the games will be more physical and collisions harder.

If a player is injured, most parents expect the coaches to be able to handle the situation. Fortunately, when a player goes down in a game they may get a little bump or bruise, but after an evaluation by the coach, most players are able to get back on their skates and stay in the game. 

Like any parent I’m concerned about injuries, and I expect coaches to have a basic knowledge on how to handle an injury. I also realize that the coach’s knowledge may be limited. 

Since I’m a paramedic, I always inform my son’s coaches of my training and offer my assistance should they need it. Over the years, I have stepped in to evaluate injured players, bandage cuts and splint broken bones until a player could receive proper care.

The biggest issue that I have encountered trying to assist is the wide range of medical supplies available at most rinks. Unfortunately, due to limited supplies, I have improvised to treat players including splinting a  broken arm with magazines from the rink lobby.

After that experience, I made sure that my son’s team had an appropriately stocked first aid kit with the supplies that I believe are needed to treat most common injuries.

Most teams and rinks have a commercially available first aid kit, which are available at most drug stores. Unfortunately, I have found that these first aids kits get used and the supplies are seldom replaced. 

Over the years, I have been asked to put together first aid kits for teams and provide advice on what supplies a rink should have on hand. Some of these supplies are geared toward trained or professional rescuers, and may require special permission or a prescription to obtain. Specific information can be obtained from state and local governments, fire, police and EMS departments.

I would also suggest that coaches and rink staff consider further training, such as basic CPR classes. Basic CPR is a skill anyone can learn in a few hours and can help save a life.

Courses are available from national organizations like the American Red Cross, American Heart Association and the National Safety Council. Some courses are offered free of charge or at a very low cost. Sponsoring classes, such as basic CPR, or participating in public access defibrillator program, is a great way for rink owners to give back to the community while providing a safer environment.

John Nevins has been a certified Emergency Medical Technician/Paramedic for 30 years. He has also been a USA Hockey registered coach.


When it comes to concussion safety, the California Amateur Hockey Association is employing a total team effort to get its members on the same page through a comprehensive concussion program.

The program launch at the start of the 2012-13 season corresponded with the California state legislature’s efforts to strengthen its concussion policies in high school sports.

The CAHA concussion program focuses on both awareness and diagnosis of concussions along with stringent return-to-play guidelines. Parents and coaches must sign forms before the season saying they understand the concussion protocol and will follow it if their son or daughter suffers head trauma.

In addition, CAHA requires players who suffer concussions to be cleared by a medical professional that is specially trained in managing concussions before returning to the ice.

“We wanted to take the lead on this sort of protocol,” said Steve Laing, a Pacific District director and former CAHA president. “We want to make sure we protect our players.” 

Jamie Campbell, a CAHA Concussion Committee member, has been part of this program since the beginning. She has seen support continue to grow, especially among coaches.

“The biggest thing is having the player to be able to look to the coach for validation,” Campbell said. “If the coach understands the impact of a concussed player, that’s absolutely huge.” 

Kevin Margarucci, manager of player safety for USA Hockey, says that CAHA’s concussion education program as part of the organization’s overall emphasis to make the game safer for everybody. 

“As the national governing body for the sport of hockey, education is a big part of our mission,” Margarucci said. “Everyone in the sport needs to understand the signs of a concussion and also the return-to-play protocol.

“The more educated everyone in the game is related to this topic, the better off our sport will be. We’ve made great progress on this front, but we all need to continue the focus.”


Everybody knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But it may not be the best way to dig the puck out of the corner. 

Skating into the corner on an angle is the safest way to come out with the puck. And your health. For one, if you pick up the puck when skating in on an angle, you’ll be able to get out of the corner quicker. It’s also important because it will lower your chances of becoming part of the boards.

That’s just one of the many helpful and healthful things the “Heads Up Hockey” teaches players and coaches.

The Heads Up Hockey Program was launched in 1996 to promote a safer, smarter and better style of hockey. Even as the program celebrates its 20th year, more needs to be done to make all players aware of the importance to keep their heads up as they are heading toward the boards.

Everyone’s heard the expression, “Heads Up!” It means be alert, watch out, be careful. It will not only help you avoid a check or spotting an open teammate or picking a spot to shoot on a goalie. It will also help you when you are along the boards.

The benefits of wearing high-quality protective equipment are well known. But no piece of gear can prevent serious spinal injuries by itself. That’s where training and instruction come into play.

It all starts with coaches driving home this simple yet crucial piece of advice on a consistent basis.

“Awareness is the only way to prevent this type of injury,” said Dr. Alan Ashare, the program’s creator. “There is no practical equipment to prevent this. The only way to do this is through coaches. They have to teach players the technique and treat it as though it is as important a skill as skating and shooting are.”

While spinal cord injuries are extremely rare in ice hockey and continue to decrease every year, one is one too many in the eyes of Ashare.

“My goal for this program is that every player will know to keep their heads up to avoid injury when they’re going into the boards,” he said.

“If this program can prevent even one spinal cord injury it will be well worth it.”


he ability to read and react is essential to any hockey player’s success on the ice. That same trait can be a matter of life and death when a person goes into cardiac arrest. 

For every minute without treatment, a victim’s rate of survival decreases by 10 percent, which means the ability to react quickly is a matter of life and death. 

That’s where an automated external defibrillator, or AED, is a life-saving device.

AED’s come in various shapes and sizes and can be found at airports and bus stations, supermarkets and office buildings. They can even be found at many ice rinks across the country, but not all. USA Hockey is trying to change that with the One Beat Program.

“Sudden cardiac arrest can happen at the ice hockey rink to a player, coach, parent, official, or spectator.

The single most important determinant for survival is the time from collapse to the application of an AED,” said Dr. Michael Stuart, USA Hockey’s chief medical and safety officer.

“Make sure you have an AED in your rink, know where it is located, and learn how to use it.” 

Still, some rinks balk at the price tag, which can be hefty.

With the One Beat Program’s special offer, basic AEDs are available for as low as $875.

And there are other ways to ease the financial burden, including appealing to local corporations and industries, private foundations, government grants and even a community fundraiser.

There are numerous documented cases where an AED has been used to save the life of a player, coach or spectator at a rink. One such case took place earlier this year in Houston when, David Rubinstein, an adult hockey player, suffered a heart attack during a game at the Bellerive Ice Center. Thanks to quick actions of two teammates, who happened to be doctors, and the Houston Fire Department, Rubinstein was saved and is now back on the ice.






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