Should youth hockey rules change to prevent concussions? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Should youth hockey rules change to prevent concussions?

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WEST LEBANON, N.H. - Much of the conversation concerning kids and concussions has so far focused on football. Now the American Academy of Pediatrics says the number of dangerous injuries in youth ice hockey is on the rise, and the group is offering new recommendations that would change the way the sport is played.

According to USA Hockey, the governing body for youth hockey in the United States, more that 350,000 boys and girls lace up the skates in the U.S.  And for boys ages 13 and older, checking is a big part of the game.  

Jason Spaulding, a youth coach, has played hockey his whole life.  "You definitely need to know how to take a hit, know how to give a hit, know how to avoid a hit," Spaulding said.

But as the sport continues to grow, so do injuries.  It's is estimated that every year, an average of 12,590 players under age 19 go to the emergency room for ice hockey injuries -- and concussion are among them. "We are more concerned about concussions at a young age because it it still a growing developing brain, it is more susceptible, and also we think the long-term consequences can be greater," said Dr. Keith Loud, Interim Chair of Pediatrics at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Dr. Loud is trying to do something about it.  He co-authored an article published by the American Academy for Pediatrics highlighting the numbers and making recommendations on what can be done. "We want to make sure that opportunity exists for all kids throughout their lifetime," he said.

Dr. Loud and his colleagues recommend expanding non-checking ice hockey programs for boys 15 and older and restricting body checking to the highest levels of competition, starting no earlier than age 15.
Spaulding's son is entering his second year of contact hockey.  "When you are watching your child smashed into the boards you obviously have feelings about that and you don't want your kids to get hurt, but on the other hands, like I said, you want them to know how to be able to take a hit.  And you want them to be able to understand the contact, so I have mixed feeling about it," he said.

But Dr. Loud says the data -- which has been collected over the last 12 to 15 years -- is indisputable.  According to the article, players dishing out and being on the receiving end of big hits are two to three times more likely to suffer severe injuries and concussions compared to boys in non-checking leagues.  

Along with being a doctor, Loud is also a big fan of the sport and skates in a men's league. "We go out Sunday nights, we don't check and we go to work the next morning and feel good.  I want to expand hockey, I don't want to restrict hockey," he said.

A few years ago, USA Hockey increased the checking age from 11 to 13 -- a development model that Spaulding says works. "I think we will have much more talented players who can play the game much more beautifully and with less focus on the thuggery that has really been in the game," Spaulding said.

The article, which is available online, was published in the Jun 1st addition.  A similar study and recommendations on youth football is also in the works.  

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