Body checking is always a major issue; it always has been and it probably always will be.
When is the correct time to bring it in? For most provinces in Canada, it's at the Peewee age of eleven or twelve years old.
I had one son who had it brought in at the age of 10, and another son who had it brought in at the age of 12. I thought it was introduced much more seamlessly at age 10, but as the doctors will tell you, if you introduce it at age 10, the incidents of injury increase by threefold and many of those injuries are serious concussions. You can't rationalize having kids injured earlier in life and more often, so I think later is better.
I'm not sure, now, that we shouldn't move the checking age from 12 to 14, and I hear that from a lot of people. The automatic reaction for a lot of others is, "No, that's not hockey. Hockey's a physical game and you've got to learn to keep your head up." And while that's all true, the vast majority of kids who play minor hockey are not going to make it to the National Hockey League. What we do in the NHL shouldn't necessarily impact on them. Things like body checking, fighting and other elements of the pro game can be learned in an easier way later in life than the skills that go with how to skate, pass and shoot, so I think later is better.
Time for A Change?
We had Dr. Stephen Norris here, who was head of Physiology and Strategic Planning for the Canadian Winter Olympic team for the last three Olympic cycles, and he noted that the really formative years are between six and 10, and that's when you can have the greatest impact as a coach.
When you think about six-to-10-year-old hockey, we almost always put the least experienced, least expert, least trained coaches in charge of the youngest kids because we think, 'Well, they're six, seven and eight. What difference does it make? They're just having fun." But that is the area where you can have the most impact and lay a foundation that makes it easier for the elite coaches at 15, 16, 17 and 18 years of age to do their job, so maybe there needs to be a re-adjustment in terms of better coaches, more expert coaches, and better trained coaches between the ages of six and 10.