The debate about hitting and physical play in youth hockey has taken on a new life after the NHL playoff victory of the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers soundly defeated the favored Pittsburgh Penguins in six games sending shockwaves throughout the NHL.
The debate in youth hockey is quite simple. The question is: How do we tell our kids to reduce physical play when they have seen evidence of the success of exhibiting physicality in games. The Flyers bodied and intimidated the Penguins continuously and beat their players to the puck on a consistent basis.
In Atlanta after a year with the new ruling there is still confusion from referee's and parents about what a check actully is-and what should be called.
USA Hockey adopted a no-hitting policy for peewee aged players so they cold concentrate on skill development.
Debate ensued arguing how effective such a policy would be-given the youngsters would experience it in Bantam hockey (the next level) anyway.
Another noted casualty in the series is the damage done to the image of Sidney Crosby. Prior to the series Crosby was looked at as the best hockey player in the NHL. Sidney had a tough year fighting concussion symptoms that kept him from competing in over 60 games during the regular season. Finally when he returned to the Pittsburgh lineup he was criticized by the media and even hockey celebs like Hockey Night in Canada's Don Cherry for being a” cry-baby” and running away from potential body contact.
In the real world Crosby had a need to be cautious given his concussion problems, but it did not help that the Philadelphia Press labeled him “the Cowardly Lion.” Most NHL teams are aware of the huge marketing opportunities associated with selling tee-shirts with player pictures on the front and player jerseys.
This has become a major revenue source and a definite indicator of who are the kids favorites of the NHL superstars. With most parents trying to guide their children through puberty and to understand that the world is not always an easy place-many may not make the Crosby jersey their first choice and kids may not request his number as much on youth hockey teams.
On the other hand Claude Giroux, who displayed a superb all-around performance may see more youth players requesting his number.
Giroux fought Crosby, knocked him done with a crunching body check and scored key goals while leading his team to an upset of the Flyers.
The NHL despite its marketing department’s best efforts is the most entertaining when there is a mixture of speed, finesse, great skating and physicality.
In youth hockey you don’t want to teach violence, but like growing up you want to be prepared for anything. Ignoring the physical and attempting to manage when kids are introduced to it is simply ignoring the inevitable.