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  • Writer's pictureSusan Flanagan

Checking in Hockey | The Kids are Alright | Nov. 1, 2011

In the winter months in the Flanagan household, a strange smell emanates from the basement laundry room. The odour is unmistakeable for anyone who has smelled it before. It is the fousty aroma of used hockey gear. With five of the seven members of the Flanagan family playing ice hockey, the odour is sometimes so powerful; it can set off the smoke detector in the kitchen while I’m cooking dinner. Surprise baby and I put up with it because, well, we have no choice if we want to live as a family unit. Hockey is the wet cement that holds us together in winter.

We start gearing up for hockey in the fall. It`s the same thing every September: I go to a hotel and sign over my line of credit to the local hockey league. I used to get a considerable discount for the third and fourth child, but this year - nada, as number 4, like his father, has joined the beer leagues.

Usually there are no surprises on the sign up forms – MCP, medical conditions, contact numbers. But this fall, lo and behold, there was something new. Players were given the option of signing up for a checking or no checking league. Wowsers all that talk of brain concussed enforcers this summer made an impact locally.

“Why would anyone want to sign up for that?” said number 2, when I asked him whether he wanted to play no checking.

And I guess he was right as so few signed up for no checking in the St. John`s Metro area that the league has not been able to proceed with a no-checking division.

“There simply wasn’t enough interest,” says Steve Power, technical director for the Avalon Minor Hockey Association. “CBR had enough for one team. But we only had 10 (in the Avalon Celtics).”

That means that out of about 2000 children that signed up in the Greater Metro Area, only about 34 signed up for non-checking. That ain’t gonna cut it when you need at least four teams to create a league. Players do after all need someone to compete against.

My sister in law in Ottawa has two boys playing no checking hockey.

“(Our) league is completely no checking for all age groups,” she emailed. “The competitive teams have checking starting at the Peewee level. I know that the Nepean Hockey League has checking starting at the Bantam levels for all groups (including rec league). Some kids switch over to our league at this age group if they're not interested in the checking.”

I’ll explain for you non hockey players what that means. In the rec league (also known as house league) boys and girls play for fun. In the competitive league, like Triple A, the competition is taken more seriously. Thus body contact is more pertinent as a miniscule fraction of these players may go on to a professional league. If that’s the case then they’ll have the option of using body contact to separate an opposing player from the puck. They can only check if the other player is in possession of the puck. Except in the NHL where they are allowed to slam them into the boards in the two seconds after the puck has left their stick.

In my experience there are pros and cons associated with body checking, but there are lots of other ways to get injured. Poor No. 1 got slammed hard by a kid who outweighed him by about 75 pounds in a recreational peewee game in Vancouver. It was a clean open ice hit, but it was like a terrier banging into a St. Bernard. Our boy cracked his helmet when it impacted with the ice – not something a parent wants to see - and his front tooth cracked in half. On the positive side, he did finish the game without complaint and I do believe the challenge of facing menacing opponents on the ice has helped make him the strong, resilient character he is today. Not only that, he mastered the art of the clean, rush-stopping hip check that served him and his teammates well through three years of midget hockey. On the negative side, the later root canal cost us a fortune.

While playing a tournament in Seattle, Washington one year, number 2 got slammed so hard, he required a trip to the hospital to check out the inner workings of his arm.

“Can’t I just drive him across the border into Canada and get him x-rayed there?” I remember thinking how much cheaper it would be. Alas, under pressure from my sister who was with us, I went to the nearest hospital where they established there were no bones broken.

As for Number 3, he’s a goalie and gets away pretty check free. And #4 plays in the girls league where if someone falls hard, players from both teams gather around to make sure they’re alright.

What I hated to see in those early days of checking in B.C. was coaches who clearly valued checking above all other skills and fostered teams that went out aggressively looking for bodies to slam. Checking should only be used to check the opposing player off the puck, and I believe coaches, referees, officials and parents should promote safety first for all body contact.

“Checking will benefit those who have dreams of the NHL,” says Power. “But after the age of 17, there are only two teams in this province with body contact: The St. John’s Junior League and Senior hockey. There’s no checking in the beer leagues.”

So there you have it. Unless your child has professional hockey aspirations, he or she doesn’t need to play checking hockey.

So why did so few sign up?

Whether players didn’t sign up due to peer pressure – they don’t want their friends calling them wimps – or whether they just don’t mind body checking, no one knows. Steve Power is at a loss to explain.

“We pushed it really hard,” he says. “I’ll push it again next year. I can see (no checking) catching on in Bantam.”

Body contact is introduced in pee wee. Even though I’ve had children playing rec hockey for 14 years, I can’t keep the divisions straight, so I’ve written them down below. Hockey NL divides the players by the year they were born.

Initiation: Born in 2005 and later (6 and under)

Novice: Born in 2003-2004 (7 and 8 year olds)

Atom: Born in 2001-2002 (9 and 10 year olds)

Pee Wee: Born in 1999-2000 (11 and 12 year olds)

Bantam: Born in 1997-1998 (13 and 14 year olds)

Midget: Born in 1994-1996 (15, 16 and 17 year olds)

So there is no checking for children 10 and under. Once children reach the age of 11 or the Pee Wee Division, body contact is introduced. Once they’ve tried it out for two years, they’ll have a better idea of whether they like it or not.

But until more children sign up, no checking hockey is no go in the St. John’s Metro area.

Susan Flanagan is a journalist and mother of five living in St. John’s.

Hallowe’en feedback

Amanda writes: “I just read your article, keeping in mind I'm 26, and I thought I would shine a light on my views of where Halloween has gone.

My generation seems to be the one that has seen the painful downslide of Halloween. When I was young, kids actually dressed up and went trick or treating. That was one point that wasn't addressed in your article. Our house doesn't get one child anymore. We don't even buy candy because there's no point. Children seem to be doing mostly home parties now and the wonder of Halloween and wandering around the dark streets to get candy has been lost. I'm going to liken it to our loss of mummering at Christmas, excluding small outports, which I've heard still participate.

I believe it's the changing world that's making these traditions slip away. The world is becoming a much scarier place than any Halloween store ever could. The mother in that store who covered her child’s eyes probably doesn't expose her child to local news or they would already be having nightmares.

With all that said, I believe that it's my generation that is trying to hold onto Halloween and preserve the excitement and fun we remember having as children. Go big or go home? Perhaps, but we are obviously doing something right in our efforts to now even have such Halloween stores in St. Johns. I don't remember Halloween stores when I was a child.

I agree that Halloween seems to be changing, both for children and adults. I believe Halloween and every other day are what you make it. Whether that means carving pumpkins and making homemade costumes or buying a scanty costume to party on George.

Halloween is a dying breed and there seems to be more options now than ever for kids of all ages to celebrate in their own ways. Let's resurrect Halloween!”

(Note from Susan: I had 75 toothbrushes last year and ran out. I also mummer every year.)

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