September 29, 2022
A leading concussion and brain injury expert from Toronto Western Hospital is strongly advocating for body checking to be introduced at age 18, instead of 13 as currently mandated under Hockey Canada’s jurisdiction.
Charles Tator, a neurosurgeon who has been named to the Order of Canada and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, authored a new study in the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences which concluded that an overwhelming amount of contact-related concussions could be avoided by moving the age of body checking up to 18 years old.
“Youth hockey leagues should raise the age of permissible bodychecking to 18 from the current age of 13-14,” Tator wrote.
“We show the potential to prevent 85 percent of bodycheck-caused concussions by raising the permissible bodychecking age from its current age of 13-14 to 18 years of age. There is also the potential to eliminate years of suffering from bodycheck-induced PCS.”
Tator has studied the effects of injury prevention in sports for decades, and has been particularly lauded for his work on spinal cord injuries. He addressed the notion of bodychecking being essential for the development of junior players who are seriously pursuing a professional career in hockey.
“Delay players going to the Canadian Hockey League for two years until they are 18 then,” Tator said to TSN’s Rick Westhead on Wednesday. “It’s a small price to pay. How much is one brain worth?”
Hockey Canada raised the minimum age of introducing body checking from 11 to 13 in 2013, which had a drastic effect on reducing concussions across minor and junior hockey. After the entry limit of age 13 years old, it falls upon individual leagues to set their criteria about how to administer body checking, with some leagues banning body checking from house league entirely.
“The brains of 16- and 17-year-old hockey players are still too vulnerable,” Tator said to Westhead. “We are seeing that too many players are suffering the effects of brain trauma from permitted bodychecking, and in some cases, the symptoms can be there forever.”
This used to be a point of contention at the AAA level across the country, but as Tator’s research shows, there should be a formal codification system across Canada to reduce the risks involved as hockey gradually grows more competitive through the youth and junior levels.