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From the National Federation of State High School Associations

Eliminating Dangerous Hits Focus Of New High School Ice Hockey Rules

Game official may now penalize flagrant hits from behind with game misconduct, but question remains: Will they?

In continuing efforts to minimize the risk of injury in the sport, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Ice Hockey Rules Committee has approved changes strengthening the language of rules on dangerous hits and giving game officials the discretion to penalize players who illegally hit players from behind with a game misconduct if they deem the hit flagrant.

Hockey referee

The checking-from-behind change was one of four major rules revisions approved by the committee at its April 22-23 meeting in Indianapolis, changes which were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

Rule 6-7-2 will be changed to state that “No player shall push, charge, cross-check or body-check an opponent from behind into the boards or goal frame,” a violation will result in a major misconduct penalty or — if flagrant — game disqualification. 

“Checking from behind is the most dangerous act in the sport,” said Dan Schuster, NFHS assistant director of coach education and staff liaison to the Ice Hockey Rules Committee. “With all of its rules changes, the goal of the committee is to minimize the risk of injury.”

Enforcement presents challenge

The challenge, however, as MomsTEAM blogger and longtime ice hockey official and safety advocate Hal Tearse has repeatedly stated, is actually getting hockey referees to enforce such rules.

As Tearse writes in a May 2012 blog, the granting of discretion to hockey referees in calling game misconducts for flagrant checks from behind may actually "the problem in a nut shell. Occam's razor suggests that the simplest solution is often times the best solution. In this case maybe if we enforced the existing rules as they are written we would not need to change rules that were not being enforced in the first place. Why do we think stiffer penalties will solve the problem? They won't. The problem is deeper and more fundamental: the combination of a win-at-all-cost attitude, a lack of on-ice training for players to teach them how to protect themselves when checked, and a resistance to rule change that would slow the game down a bit and reduce the number of hits." 

Blind-side hits

In another risk-minimization change, Rule 6-41-3 on blind-side hits has been added, stating that “No player shall deliver a check to an unsuspecting and vulnerable player.” The addition was implemented to eliminate blind-side hits from the sport as well as to stress legal body-checking.

This helps protect the defenseless player,” Schuster said. “The committee is striving to take these dangerous and unnecessary hits out of the game.”

Other rule changes

The final rules change dealing with risk minimization is Rule 3-3-5. The goalkeeper’s glove will now be included as a piece of equipment that, if it becomes displaced, requires play to be immediately stopped. 

In the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play, the committee also elected to institute Rule 6-42-1 and 2, which prohibits the embellishment of acts in an attempt to draw a penalty through any exaggerated or deceitful actions or to attempt to worsen an already called penalty. The infraction for both is a minor penalty call. 

“Some kids are putting themselves in position where it looks like they get checked from behind, when in fact, they are merely attempting to draw a major penalty,” Schuster said. “The committee wants to eliminate these acts from the game.”

Participation statistics

According to the NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey, ice hockey is the 15th-most popular boys sport at the high school level with 35,732 participants in 1,612 schools. An additional 8,833 girls participated in the sport at 600 schools.

Source: National Federation of State High School Associations

Posted May 11, 2013