As passionate as I am about the game of hockey I received a reminder tonight of its dangerous potential while watching my son's B Bantam game earlier this evening. Two of my son's teammates suffered varying degrees of head/neck/back injuries with both exiting the arena on gurneys and into awaiting ambulances.
Both were on the receiving end of monster hits near the boards by sizable foes with each making staggering attempts to stand before dropping back to the ice in a heap.
The consensus among those of us who witnessed the incidents was that the hits levied by the opposing players--while severe--were, in fact, clean and not worthy of penalty assessment. While both players who left the game are somewhat undersized, that in and of itself was not the overriding factor resulting in their injuries.
Being in the wrong place at the right time played a part in the incidents but I question how much each player's rink awareness--or lack thereof--may have contributed to their fate.
Far too often I see youth players, especially those playing at the age levels where checking is allowed, heading toward pucks along the side boards and in the corners with tunnel vision focused solely on the puck. These opportunities for injury occur several times throughout the course of every game but, by pure luck of the draw, many are spared.
Youth coaches are taught to instruct kids about keeping their head on a swivel, so to speak, for purposes of defensive zone coverage in particular. But players need to be reminded to follow that mantra all over the ice and use the visual data gathered to know where everyone else is on the ice at all times. This rink awareness, though helpful in many areas of the game, is a crucial factor in keeping our youth players safe.
Just a peek over one or both shoulders can mean the difference between making a smart, "heads-up" (pun intended) play and getting one's clock cleaned. I can honestly say that my own son practices this tactic as well as anyone I see at his age level and I attribute his success in that area to education.
It's something I drilled into him over the course of five years as his coach and have continued to impress upon him as a supporting father in the bleachers. Our kids need to know what's going on around them on the ice. It's our job as parents to consistently remind them of ways--such as this--to keep them on the ice and out of harm's way as much as possible.
We've been telling them for years to look both ways before crossing the street so why wouldn't we do the same for them when we are sending them out to skate at high speed toward solid walls in every direction?