The board of the nonprofit that oversees games for more than 50,000 of the state's youngest hockey players plans to vote Sunday on whether to allow increased penalties for checking to lapse.
Minnesota Hockey put the increased penalty in place on a trial basis toward the end of last season. A committee was appointed to study the effect of the rule change and issue a recommendation — and they plan to do that this weekend.
Providence Academy coach Hal Tearse chaired the committee and said its members voted 5 to 1 to recommend letting the rules lapse.
"The new rules is not the answer to the problem," Tearse said. "The answer to the problem lies in better enforcement, and then better overall supervision at the district level."
The youth hockey organization's board voted unanimously in late January to toughen penalties for players who engage in illegal checking or boarding. A minor penalty for an illegal check increased from two minutes off the ice to five.
By increasing the penalty, Minnesota youth hockey followed in the footsteps of the Minnesota State High School League, which changed their rules in mid-January. League officials made the rare mid-season move after Benilde-St Margaret's player Jack Jablonski was checked from behind and paralyzed.
But Tearse, who has also served on Minnesota Hockey's safety committee, said this isn't a big issue for youth hockey.
"We don't get a lot of serious injuries in youth hockey," he said. "The injury that occurred that trigged this occurred in high school, not in youth hockey."
And Tearse said Minnesota Hockey didn't have time to collect enough information to know whether increasing the penalty is worthwhile.
"In the absence of data, I think it's a hard sell to say we should continue with these penalties at this time," he said.
The absence of data is exactly the reason Brad Hewitt voted against the measure. He said Minnesota Hockey should have that information before moving forward. Hewitt said high school league data show the increased penalties are effective. And he said Tearse and others are wrong if they think checking from behind doesn't happen in youth hockey.
"Why is there a rush to make a decision when there's the safety of a child at play?" Hewitt asked, and then he suggested the answer: "The timing of the rules state there's pressure to make a decision this weekend because just how the timing is and what you can do for the following years. It's got to go in the rule book... So there is a pressure timing-wise to do something, if you're going to do something. But I have no pressure."
And Hewitt said if anyone would be feeling pressure, it would be him. Hewitt is the director of Minnesota Hockey's District 6.
"That's like Edina, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Burnsville, New Prig, Waconia... I'm in a tough, big district," he said. "And I haven't gotten one call. Not one call to change this rule."
Other officials with Minnesota Hockey did not respond to requests for comment. Hewitt hopes they put the decision off. Tearse said if the rules stay in place, they will lead to an environment where kids are afraid of any kind of contact.