Pee Wee hockey action in Moose Jaw.

Hockey Alberta created a stir in the Canadian hockey community on Wednesday when they announced that they would be banning body checking at the peewee level, ages 11 and 12, starting this fall.

The ban came after Hockey Alberta set up a committee last year to review research on the injury risk that body checking poses for the younger age groups.  

“There's overwhelming evidence that body checking is the single most consistent risk factor for injuries and concussions in youth ice hockey,” said Rob Virgil, Hockey Alberta board chair, in a statement on Wednesday.  “Our players' safety is the foundation in making this decision.”

The decision has been met with mixed reactions across the country, especially in our province with the Saskatchewan Hockey Association.

“Our thoughts are if that's what their membership of Hockey Alberta wants, that's entirely their right to go and take that initiative,” said Kelly McClintock, SHA's general manager.  “This has been a debate for a long time across the country and our membership has always stated that they want it at peewee and lower.”

SHA general manager Kelly McClintock dicusses Hockey Alberta's move with Marc Smith.

The SHA has been conducting a poll on their website for the past few weeks that asks members the question, “What age should body checking be allowed in Minor Hockey?” 73 percent of respondents have indicated that they want to see body checking at the peewee age level and lower, including 32 percent wanting it in the atom division, ages 9 and 10.

“I don't see Saskatchewan Hockey following suit with Hockey Alberta, unless there is some kind of move across the country that makes it mandatory,” said McClintock.

Hockey Canada limits body checking to the peewee age level, so a move to the atom division is out of the question for the SHA.  “We would love to, but we can't,” said McClintock.

He adds the SHA is under the belief that educating coaches is the best way to prevent injuries from happening, not removing body checking from the game.

“We are the only province that make it mandatory that at least one coach of every minor team from novice to midget has taken a four-hour body course,” McClintock said.  “We believe that it's about educating coaches, who in turn educate the kids.  

“We're not naive enough to believe that everyone is teaching what they learned, but we make it mandatory that at least one person on every team has to, and we're the only province that has done that.”

This issue isn't expected to go away as Hockey Canada will be discussing the possibility of a country-wide ban when they hold their annual meeting in a few weeks.