Safety trumps winning

High school hockey in Minnesota is putting safety first.

Daily Editorial Board

This week, rule changes involving stiffer penalties for boarding, hits to the head and hits from behind, will take effect at high school hockey games throughout Minnesota. These changes are welcome reactions after two Minnesota high school students recently suffered severe spinal injuries from being checked into the boards from behind. Under the new rules, checking from behind will become a major penalty, putting the offending player out of the game for five minutes. In the past, such offenses only called for a two-minute penalty.
The Minnesota State High School League is hoping this incentive will produce safer play in rinks across the state. The truth is, such incentives can only work if referees remain steadfast in making penalty calls, coaches teach proper checking techniques and skills, and parents accept the game with support and care for the safety of all players.
As in many sports, referees in youth hockey find themselves under pressure from agitated parents and, at times, coaches themselves for calling penalties. These factors are representative of a culture in youth sports where winning means everything, and safety is often ignored. If this culture is not changed, rule changes may not be enough.
Young athletes cannot be expected to follow rules that are not reinforced by coaches and parents alike. Such a shift in culture is indeed a conscious exercise and as such, parents and coaches must alter their mindset to prevent another life altering injury.
These two injuries have sparked a long overdue conversation concerning safety and culture in youth sports. With luck, the lessons learned from these tragic injuries will not soon be forgotten.