Despite a year of hockey that has seen its fair share of turmoil, parents are still signing their children up to play this season.
According to hockey parents at Scarborough Gardens Arena, head injuries to star players like Sidney Crosby and the deaths of former enforcers like Wade Belak – as a possible result of brain-related trauma – haven’t been a deterrent in keeping their kids on the ice.
“No,” James Coyle said emphatically when the Toronto Observer asked if he considered pulling his son from hockey due to the well-documented injuries occurring in the upper levels of the sport.
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“It’s not something I worry about,” said Richard Stark of his son, Calder, getting hurt. “But it’s something I’m aware of.”
“No, I’m not,” said John Ord, a parent and also a coach, of whether head injuries have frightened him enough to convince him hockey to take his son, Ethan, out of hockey. “I’ve had a kid on my team that fell in a schoolyard and got a concussion. Stuff happens.”
As the man behind the bench, Ord has to deal with the anxieties of parents on an everyday basis.
But even with all the negative press hockey has had lately, Ord can’t say he has experienced a change in attitude coming into this season among the hockey moms and dads he deals with.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Ord of whether more parents have come to him this year with their thoughts on the matter of head injuries. “I don’t think there’s been people that have gone to me with concerns.”
In fact, Ord cites the Greater Toronto Hockey League’s decision to ban all headshots as the key to their laissez-faire attitude towards the whole situation.
“There are rule changes in the GTHL that are addressing that,” said Ord about head injuries in minor hockey. “They’ve implemented a headshot rule that any contact between the neck and head is a penalty whether it’s accidental or not.
“It starts at a two-minute minor for an accidental penalty and the next step comes as an intentional hit. It’s defined as a double minor and a major is often given if a player is injured. That comes with a three-game suspension.”
The league has been looking at hits-from-behind for a few years now and as Stark puts it, the Toronto-area league is “cracking down.”
Hockey Canada, the country’s governing body of the sport in all minor levels, has since adopted a zero-tolerance policy regarding headshots, a move that bodes well for the future of young athletes.
Still, even if these parents are optimistic their children won’t get hurt, they have taken the right precautions towards the possibility of it happening.
One of these preventive measures is to suit their kids up in the best possible equipment, something Stark said is a “very important” consideration for him.
“We got Calder a very good helmet in case that does happen to him,” said Stark of his son possibly getting hurt.
Ord echoed those sentiments.
“Ethan got a new helmet this year,” Ord said of his child. “It supposedly has the latest technology for injury prevention with respect to the head.”
Even though mouth guards have been proven to help prevent brain trauma, some kids haven’t taken to the oral piece kindly, even with the urging of their parents to wear them.
“Yes, I tell him to wear one,” Ord said. “But he’s 14. He doesn’t want to.”
That seemed to be a common thought among the young skaters.
“If the rule was there for him to wear one, he would wear one,” Coyle said. “He wore one before but he leaves it half out of his mouth. It’s more dangerous to leave it half hanging out of your mouth than not fully in your mouth.”
And though these parents haven’t yet been through the traumatic experience of seeing their own children suffering a head injury, they have still seen it with other children.
“I’ve seen kids get concussions,” Stark said. “It’s scary to watch.”
For Starks, NHL players set the example for youngsters, and it is up to the world’s top players to play the game of hockey clean, as kids tend to emulate those who they look up to.
“The stupid hits like on Sidney Crosby are unnecessary,” Stark said. “That bugs me. These guys are more skilled than that. They don’t have to do that. They can control themselves, and they should.”