Michelle MacIsaac hopes players in minor hockey will always have a chance to play the game the way it was meant to be played.
That’s why the Stephenville minor hockey executive member was pretty happy about how things unfolded at the annual general meeting of Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador in Gander over the weekend.
Minor hockey delegates from across the province voted 34-27 against a notice of motion to take bodychecking out of minor hockey at all levels, with the exception of AAA midget and AAA bantam.
“A player being able to take the man off the puck, to me, is one of the key elements of the game and it’s a skill in the game,” MacIsaac said Monday.
MacIsaac said she appreciates the aggressive nature of hockey and is quick to point out players in the minor hockey ranks were always taught the proper techniques in bodychecking as young as 10 years old until Hockey Canada implemented changes to the rules regarding body contact at the minor level.
She said a lot of the concerns over player safety revolve around the more violent nature of such things as hits to the head and hits from behind, both of which carry penalties under the present rules for those who are guilty of such action.
“Those are the hits that cause the concussions and they cause the broken collarbones,” she said. “To say, now, you’re going to take checking out of the game isn’t going to prevent those hits. Any player who is willing to take a player out is still going to go out and try to take a player out. He doesn’t care if he gets penalized or not.”
The transition from peewee hockey to bantam is a challenge for players because it takes times to adjust to a different style of hockey, but this appears to be the age level where minor hockey associations across the province have noticed a drop in registration numbers.
MacIsaac has served on the Stephenville minor hockey executive for the past four years in a variety of volunteer roles and during that time she has seen a handful of players give up the game, but she doesn’t think that the physical nature of the sport was the reason behind leaving the game.
“There’s not very many kids who I have seen quit that would say, ‘It was because I got checked,’” she said. “If a child decides they want to leave hockey because it’s too physical, they should. We shouldn’t take checking out of hockey because one kid quit due to the physical nature."
Furthermore, she never had anybody at the meetings who was eager to have bodychecking removed give her reason to rethink her take on the matter.
“The players that are dropping off, they showed absolutely no proof whatsoever that they did any research to say why they are actually quitting,” she said.
She was left shaking her head when she realized there were people who were concerned about safety below the AAA level, but not so concerned about those players who would suit up at the AAA level.
“They were claiming to use the safety defence as a reason behind this, but yet they were out and out saying we don’t care about the safety of the AAA players,” she said.
MacIsaac’s son Stephen has graduated from the minor hockey ranks, but her son Michael is entering his second season of midget this winter. She hopes players coming up through the ranks will be given the same opportunity to embrace the game, the way she believes it was meant to be played.
*** Edited June 17 ***