Right call in keeping tougher hockey penalties

Don Heinzman
ECM Editorial Writer

Youth hockey is a popular sport in Minnesota with over 40,000 players competing in the state.

Coaching youngsters how to check properly is paramount, because illegal checking can cause serious injuries.

Without proper rules and penalties rigorously applied, young people could become seriously injured, as was the case of Jack Jablonski who is paralyzed because of an accidental check from behind him.

The Board of Directors of Minnesota Hockey is to be commended for its decision to keep the tougher penalties in place for illegal checking at all levels of youth hockey teams for the 2012-13 season.

In reaction to the public’s concern over the Jablonski injury, the board of directors last spring agreed to assess a mandatory five-minute, major penalty when a player illegally checks another. Previously, the referee decided the severity of the check and applied the penalty.

In late June, the board was wavering over backing a recommendation of an ad hoc committee. That recommendation was to go back to the old rule way of letting the referee decide the penalty on illegal checking and assessing the two-minute penalty.

The more the board talked about reverting to the old more lenient rule on checking, the more members realized safety of the players was more important.

Some who wanted the old rules argued that players lose instructional time when they have to sit out longer penalties. They preferred to leave the assessment of penalty to the official. Game officials would be encouraged to enforce the checking and boarding rule vigorously.

Some who voted to keep the harsher penalties agreed that going back to the old rule would not be received well with the public.

They were right, because the public in general is becoming more concerned over long-term brain damage from concussions suffered by players in any contact sport.

The Minnesota Hockey Board wisely advocates better education of coaches and game officials.

Critics of the longer penalty argue that better knowledge and enforcement of the rules is a better route. They point out that the new rule takes away discretion of penalizing minutes from the referee, because the five-minute penalty is automatic.

The decision was a tough call for the board of directors, but most will agree it’s the right call, because it should make the game safer.

Don Heinzman is the former editor of the Elk River Star News and a member of the ECM Editorial Board.