Minnesota Hockey, the organization that governs amateur youth hockey in Minnesota, voted unanimously this weekend to adopt tougher penalties for illegal checking.
Players who engage in illegal checking or boarding will now receive a mandatory five-minute major penalty. In the past, referees could opt for a lesser, two-minute minor penalty for an illegal check. The new rule applies to all amateur youth players. The group that oversees high school hockey players recently announced a similar rule change.
The changes come in the wake of 16-year-old Jack Jablonski's paralyzing injuries after being checked during a game in December. Jablonski, a sophomore at Benilde-St. Margaret's School in St. Louis Park, Minn., entered a rehabilitation program on Monday.
Minnesota Hockey executive director Mike Snee said he hopes the stiffer penalty reduces the risk of injuries by overly aggressive players.
"Checking has become an intimidation tactic as well as a 'retrieve the puck' tactic," Snee said. "That's part of the game we want to remove."
The illegal hit occurs in about one in ten amateur youth games at the Bantam level and above, according to score sheet data from the Hockey Education Program, said Minnesota Hockey president David Margenau. Bantam level players are between 14 and 16 years old.
The program, a collaboration between Minnesota Hockey and the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, has been collecting score sheet data for seven years.
The tougher penalties are just one step toward reducing injuries, Minnesota Hockey officials said.
Players and fans also need to reminder that youth sports isn't about "big collisions and intimidations," Margenau said.
"Youth sports should be learning sportsmanship, learning teamwork, learning life lessons, learning skills, having fun," he said. "And professional sports are professional sports. It's a business. It's entertainment. So we have to remember what we're about."
The changes take effect on Wednesday on a trial basis. Minnesota Hockey, which oversees about 54,000 young players at community clubs around the state, plans to re-evaluate the new rules at the end of the season.