No real hockey fan would disagree that today’s version of the game – at any level – features incredible athletes who are faster, stronger and more skilled than those who laced up the skates before them.
Yet despite the ongoing evolution within the sport itself, television networks still highlight blindside hits, headshots, checking from behind and fights for shock value. Meanwhile, a bevy of unbelievable passes, eyebrow-raising one-timers, and jaw-dropping saves sometimes fly under the radar.
USA Hockey is working to bring permanent change to the game at the amateur level, simply by focusing on hard work, ethics and true sportsmanship.
“The culture in hockey where players bang sticks or cheer when a blow-up hit occurs, where coaches and parents constantly yell ‘Hit ‘em,’ has no place in our sport,” said Kevin Margarucci, who’s served as USA Hockey manager of player safety since 2015. “We support the proper progression of body contact and checking, but nowhere is the word ‘hit’ used.
“Based on the rules, most of the ‘hits’ you see in these replay clips are illegal, but they’re celebrated as ‘part of the game,’” he continued. “If we teach our kids sportsmanship, mutual respect and good ethics, we can eliminate some of the unnecessary and dangerous plays that occur during a game.”
USA Hockey has been proactive regarding player safety – both on and off the ice. At their Annual Congress in June, a policy statement was passed unanimous by the body that created a new emphasis on some existing rules to promote safe and respectful play. One of those points of emphasis was enforcement of a bench minor penalty for unsportsmanlike behavior to any team whose player(s) or team officials bang the boards with a stick or any other object, including skates or arms, at any time, including after a body check regardless as to whether the check was penalized or not.
The spirit and intent of this rule is to eliminate unsportsmanlike behavior that is designed to “taunt” or “intimidate” an opponent through the celebration of unnecessary or illegal body check. Simply banging the stick, or other object, against the boards while on the player’s bench is not a penalty. However, it is deemed to be unsportsmanlike conduct and should be penalized when done as a means of escalating dangerous and/or unnecessary physical play where there is no intent to legally gain possession of the puck.
The correct procedure to apply this interpretation is to first warn the offending team once after the first violation. Any further violation of this policy by the same team should be penalized by assessing a bench minor to the team under Rule 601(b)1 & 5. This bench minor is to be served by a player on the ice at the time of the infraction. Once this bench minor has been served, any further violations by the same team shall be penalized by assessing a bench minor penalty.
If a bench minor penalty for a violation of this policy is being served and before that bench minor expires another violation by the same team occurs that teams head coach shall be assessed a game misconduct under Rule601(e)1.