Ask AHAI: Non-sanctioned tournaments as it relates to officiating and injuries

By Mike Mullally, AHAI Director

QUESTION: My oldest boy is now playing Bantam and his team participated in the Chi-Town Shuffle last weekend.  A couple of boys on the team suffered concussions, which happens, but there were checks, cross checks, and hits to the head that weren’t called. I realize that’s always going to be the case in some form or fashion; however, if the officials don’t know what is an illegal hit or aren’t confident enough to call such, what will stop the same thing from happening repeatedly? I recognize that the officials are doing their best and I’m not attempting to be critical of them or the players that commit the infraction but possibly more education is needed so that we can start to diminish these incidents.

Last year we had four boys on our team break bones. We need to find a way to minimize these injuries. The game is physical, but there must be a way to minimize concussions and other serious injuries. Does “Ask AHAI” have any thoughts or ideas on my concerns, I’d welcome the feedback.

ANSWER: I have read your email About the Chi-Town Shuffle with interest.

The first thing I need to address is the tournament itself. You are likely unaware that the Chi-town Shuffle is not a USA Hockey sanctioned tournament; it is completely independent. The Chi-Town Shuffle usually hires qualified officials for their games, however, they are not assigned by AHAI. Therefore, it is possible that the officials could be under-certified for a given level of play, not enough officials picked up the games (shortage of officials per game), or there is the potential that they are not certified at all. Non-sanctioning by AHAI and USA Hockey might be the reason for some of your issues within that tournament. We should note that the tournament operator is a very responsible group. Additionally, AHAI is trying to work with the tournament operator to get the tournament certified and help prevent such officiating issues from occurring.

The second issue you mentioned pertained to the “broken bones” on your son’s team last season. Hockey can be a rough sport, and unfortunately injuries do occur, even without infractions of the rules. Sadly, players do get hurt. But hockey is one of the safest sports a child can play. I am not saying no infraction occurring is the reason for the injuries your team experienced last year, but each incident needs to be examined independently; lumping them together is not necessarily fair to the sport.

There are 2 types of injury – those that cannot be prevented (as a natural course of the sport) and those that are with some intent and can be eliminated or “coached” or educated out of the game. Those injuries or incidents that we can have influence over is something we have strived to obviate. We have used more intense rules and consequences for violators, increased coaching education, increased player education and in some cases, increased spectator education. Therefore, I do think we are doing a lot to prevent injury…but we can always do more.

Concussion continues to be an issue.  It always will be.  We have stepped up the consequences of high hits or head hits and this has greatly diminished the number of hits to the head during a sanctioned USA Hockey game. But it is not enough until all the head hits are eliminated.  Our officials do call the high hits but perhaps don’t make enough calls, or not as they should. Our officials are required in Illinois, to take an officiating class and test each year to be qualified to officiate at an age-appropriate level. At every AHAI event for body contact levels, 14U and above, we have Athletic Trainers to assist in the diagnosis of concussion or possible concussion. This has been an important step for our players protection should an event occur.

AHAI has done a lot to secure the safety of our players and will continue to look for ways to increase player safety. We need to do a better job of educating our parents about the steps we have taken. The bottom line is the players are our children and we need to do everything we can to keep them safe.

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