USHL Launches Player Safety Initiative
Wednesday September 19, 2012
League focus on respect for the game and injury prevention
The United States Hockey League, USA Hockey’s elite Tier I junior hockey program and the pinnacle of the education-based American Development Model, today announced the launch of a ground-breaking initiative focused on player safety and injury prevention.
Working with USA Hockey as a pilot project, and in consultation with the National Hockey League, the NCAA, and the League’s equipment supplier CCM, the USHL will implement a series of initiatives focused on five areas: new regulations governing dangerous play; continuous monitoring, review, early intervention and supplementary discipline by the Commissioner’s Office; regular and collaborative conferencing among the League’s Hockey Operations Group, Competition Committee, head coaches, officials, and players to review and improve play; a focus on the improvement of equipment; and better and more consistent injury tracking.
After a year’s preparation and drafting by the League office and the USHL Competition Committee, the first of these initiatives will launch at the annual USHL Fall Classic, which begins today in Sioux City, Iowa as the League’s sixteen Member Clubs, fans, and hundreds of NHL and NCAA scouts converge in the final week before the beginning of the 2012-13 season. The Commissioner, USHL Hockey Operations staff, and the head of officials will meet individually with each USHL Member Club to review new regulations for the 2012-13 season passed by the League’s Board of Directors at its Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh at the 2012 NHL Draft. The new rules focus on the reduction of dangerous play, as well as a program of increased supervision, early intervention, and supplementary discipline to make sure the new injury-prevention-driven initiatives are enforced.
The League has specified a number of what it terms “dangerous play” minor penalties (ie: elbowing, head contact, kneeing), which it will monitor and review together with all major penalties – both fighting and non-fighting – throughout the course of the season. Players accumulating multiple penalties will be notified and addressed by the Commissioner’s office with an eye toward early intervention and education, and multiple penalties in any category will be subject to supplementary discipline.
“We take our position as USA Hockey’s Tier I League very seriously,” said USHL President and Commissioner Skip Prince. “We’ve been concerned by the increase in injuries and lost games by our players over the past several seasons, and this is a comprehensive effort to see what we can do to address the problem. We recognize our responsibility to deliver the world’s best young players to the next level – the NCAA and the NHL – faster, stronger, smarter, and more skilled than ever before. But we also need to make sure they’re in top health and physical condition, and fully aware that as the next generation’s guardians of the game, they have a responsibility to hockey and to each other. Our mission is to keep every ounce of the aggressive, all-out style of play for which the USHL is so well-known, while tuning down some of the ‘dumb and dangerous’ play that neither benefits the game nor the elite athletes who are playing it.”
The USHL effort has been a commitment from the top down, with the League’s fifteen owners, together with USA Hockey, fully engaged in planning over the past year. "This new initiative is a major step forward that will provide a tremendous educational format to further advance a players respect in the greatest sport,” said William “Butch” Johnson, Chairman of the USHL Board of Directors. “We as owners are very proud to initiate a program to make our game safer."
Derek Lalonde, Head Coach and General Manager of the 2012 Clark Cup Champion Green Bay Gamblers, agrees. “The USHL has always been a progressive, forward-thinking league. It has been a leader in taking steps to better the game, such as instituting hybrid icing. In this case, the steps are to further improve player safety which is vital at this stage of player development. It is another sign why our league is a front-runner in not only junior hockey, but at all levels of the game.”
As part of the player safety initiative, every USHL player, official, and coach will be issued a Hockey Education and Respect Guidebook, detailing the new regulations and procedures, with a single underlying theme of respect for the opposing team and for the game. Commissioner’s Office staff will meet individually with each team during the USHL Fall Classic to explain the new regulations and disciplinary procedures. The League’s Hockey Operations Department and head of officials will then conduct regular telephone and video conferences throughout the season with the League’s head coaches, general managers, and player captains and representatives, reviewing calls and discipline, and refining the new system.
“This is an exciting work in progress – with the emphasis on ‘work’,” said Scott Brand, USHL Director of Game Operations and its Referee-in-Chief. “What sets the USHL initiative apart is its focus on education, not just post-incident discipline. Our players and officials are talented, but they’re young, with their best hockey still ahead, and this will only help them at the next level.”
USHL representatives have been hard at work with CCM to insure that best-in-industry equipment is provided to the players. Protective gear specifications, helmet fittings, and equipment review are part of CCM’s day-to-day interaction with America’s top junior hockey program. As part of that equipment focus, and again with the support of USA Hockey pilot project status, all USHL players, and not simply 18-year-old and older players, will be given the option of wearing the approved Oakley three-quarter face shield rather than a full cage, which provides a better visual field for players and, in the eyes and research of many hockey industry experts, will cut down on injury-insensitive play at the elite level. NCAA Division I hockey is pursuing a similar initiative so that college players will be able to use the protective shield in future seasons.
"We applaud the USHL for its leadership in working with USA Hockey on a proactive approach to player respect and safety in our game," said Jim Johannson, Assistant Executive Director of Hockey Operations for USA Hockey. "This pilot program is a significant step forward and will benefit all involved, particularly the players."
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrated its 10th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2011-12. With 28 picks during the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and over 280 players already committed to NCAA Division I schools this season, the USHL has emerged as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent. For more information, visit us on the web at www.USHL.com or visit the League’s social media platforms, including Facebook (www.facebook.com/ushlhockey), twitter (www.twitter.com/ushl), and YouTube (www.youtube.com/ushlinteractive). Fans can also watch USHL action all season long, live or on-demand via FASTHockey (ushl.fasthockey.com).
It’s not just hockey. It’s the USHL.