Mixing ice, skates, sticks and children with bodychecking is a recipe for serious injuries and questionable hockey, says the president of the Canadian Pediatric Society.
Dr. Richard Stanwick, who is also the medical health officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority, said mounting evidence shows bodychecking among young players leads to concussions and brain injuries.
A recent study found the risk of concussion in minor-league hockey players was significantly lower in Quebec, where bodychecking is not allowed until age 13, than in Alberta, where bodychecking is allowed at age 11.
Stanwick said the most gifted young players in Canada are usually singled out for checking, which makes them at highest risk of serious head injuries. “So they are leaving their playing days before they even turn 15.”
In a study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, researchers at Evanston, Illinois’s NorthShore Neurological Institute and the University of California Los Angeles said they may be getting closer to detecting the dementia-like condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in living people.
For years, researchers trying to determine whether concussion-prone football players suffered profound neurological damage had to wait until after the athletes’ deaths to examine their brain tissue under a microscope.
The recent U.S. study used brain scans to compare five former NFL players, all of whom had suffered at least one concussion, with five non-players roughly the same age. The scans showed that the athletes’ brains held significantly more tau — a protein that builds up over damaged brain cells and is considered the hallmark evidence of CTE. Researchers found heavy tau deposits in the brains of ex-players who committed suicide.
Meanwhile, bodychecking continues in B.C. minor hockey, despite the best efforts of its senior executives.
Shannon Bell, past-president of B.C. Hockey, said the association has tried for the past two years to eliminate bodychecking from pee-wee (ages 11 and 12) and younger levels.
But Bell said local associations, and many parents, vote to keep it in, succeeding most recently last June.
She said adults involved in minor hockey are aware of the studies and hazards. But many insist bodychecking is an important element of the game and stress it’s vital to prepare young players before they move up in age class. “We haven’t given up,” Bell said. “It will come up again.”
With files from The Chicago Tribune.
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