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Hockey Has Changed Since 1972

Hockey Has Changed Since 1972

We're excited to share a guest post today by Rick Traugott, a lifelong coach to young athletes. Enjoy this great read about Rick's stories and experiences and opinions on protecting players on the ice.

'My first year of Squirt hockey (dating myself - it was 1972), we didn’t wear any facial protection except for a flimsy little plastic mouth guard that fit, kind of, over our lips, but spent most of the time on our chins. I don’t remember anyone ever getting cut or losing any teeth. We fell down a lot. No one hit their heads on the ice - that I knew of anyway.

I played for the purple and gold house league team. We were sponsored by Agincourt Arena, which was a little confusing for us seven year olds as we played all of our games at Agincourt Arena too. At the time, I was a HUGE Montreal Canadiens fan and my favourite player was Ken Dryden. As such, I wanted to be the goalie and began the season splitting the games with Billy (for some reason I remember his name). But, Billy wasn’t a very good skater and so he ended up playing net full time and I only saw time between the pipes on one other occasion in Atom AAA when both our goalies were sick and we lost 9-1.

The real point of the story is that Ken Dryden was my favourite player and when he published his first book The Game in 1983, I was enthralled by his ability to take us into the dressing room of my favourite team, fascinated by his descriptions of playing in the NHL with the most storied franchise in hockey. Although some would argue that Dryden writes (and speaks) too much like a lawyer, I think he is a terrific story teller, a wonderful observer of life and particularly of the game of hockey. If you haven’t read The Game, it truly is a must read.

His new book Game Change deals with the story of Steve Montador who ultimately passed away directly or indirectly from concussions. Dryden has some very pointed arguments as to how and why the game needs to change and where that change has to come from in order to protect players of all ages, skill level and caliber from catastrophic injury and long term damage. He outlines how the game has changed over the past few decades to one of huge speeds, great strength and differing levels of respect for opponents.

In some ways, equipment has changed the way we play the game as well. Parents of youngsters are happier with a “suit of armour” for their kids rather than the old felt and leather elbow and shoulder pads we used to wear. Fifty years ago, stepping up for a big hit in mid-ice was going to hurt the “hitter” as much as the “hittee” - you had to think twice about the big, rocking body check. Now, with highly protective plastic covering most of the player’s body, it’s not so much of an impact if you can get an elbow or shoulder into the right place on your opponent.

Sometimes, though, it’s not the big hits that can injure a player and keep them out for an extended period. I remember taking a skate blade to the back of my calf when I played minor hockey. It took four stitches to put together and, although it wasn’t anything really bad, it could have been - and it kept me out of the lineup for a couple games. Interestingly, I was introduced to a new protective product a few weeks ago made by a Canadian company called Oneiric that would have prevented that cut to my calf. Their “Origin Base Layer” looks like an oversized running tight but, the features it has are outstanding.

First, there are pockets in the shins that hold shin pads in place without the need for Velcro. This is great for young players getting dressed and not having to deal with more pieces of equipment than needed. Second, there is extra padding behind the calf and hamstring to help protect a few parts of the body that are often exposed to sharp edges. Third, and what I think is ingenious, is cut-resistant material around the ankle. With many players tying their skates lower to maximize ankle agility, this is a perfect piece of protection to help reduce cuts around the tops of the skate - a nasty injury I have seen too many times, and one that often takes a long time to heal.

Although Ken Dryden is advocating for sweeping changes to the way the game is played at the NHL level and down, there are great ways players can help prevent injury, not only to the head, but to the entire body.'

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About the Author:

Rick Traugott is a lifelong coach who has been working with young athletes in many sports for the past 37 years. Since the 2010-11 season, Coach Traugott has been working with Canada's National Women's Team hockey program serving in a number of roles including camp coach with the U18 and development teams, and Video Coach with both the U18 and National Women's Team. Rick was a member of the staff that won a gold medal with the U18 team at the IIHF World Championship in Budapest, Hungary in 2014 and a silver medal with the NWT at Worlds in Malmo, Sweden in 2015. This past season he served as Video Coach and Team Leader for the uSports Women's Team that competed at the Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan where the team won a silver medal.

Coach Traugott’s popular weekly blog reaches thousands of coaches around the world, discussing all that goes into teaching the game of hockey. He has also self-published four eBooks including Creating a Culture of Confidence and Torpedo Hockey. His website is found at ricktraugott.com.