By Collin Insley, Staff Writer
On Saturday November 17th, starved for some live hockey, my friend Greg and I went to Anaheim Ice – practice facility for the Anaheim Ducks, and home to amateur players of all ages and skill levels – to catch some high school hockey. The game featured teams representing Orange Lutheran and Corona del Mar high schools, and although it was nice to be sitting in a cold arena, watching hockey, I left the rink somewhat disturbed – not by the lopsided 10-0 score favoring Corona del Mar, but rather the shockingly high amount of blatant hits from behind authored by players on both teams.
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The Ducks have done a wonderful job of growing the game at a youth level in recent years, and the crown jewel of their efforts is the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League – a league that houses Varsity and Junior Varsity programs for 12 public and private high schools spread out across the Southland.
The league is several years old, and has grown in size every year of its existence. More importantly, the league has given local teenagers the opportunity to represent their schools playing a sport they love. High school hockey in Southern California may not ever be as big as other sports like football or basketball, but having played on my own high school’s roller hockey team for all four years of high school, I can personally speak to the amount of pride you can feel when representing your high school – the whole experience is full of positives.
But none of it matters if the kids aren’t taught how to keep themselves and others safe from serious injury; and tolerating any kind of checking from behind is counterproductive to that effort.
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Greg and I arrived a little bit late, walking in to find Orange Lutheran already down 4-0 at the end of the first period. Corona del Mar had fewer bodies, but they also out-sized most of the Orange Lutheran line-up. If I had to venture a guess, I’d imagine that Orange Lutheran has a very young team this year. Case in point, Freshman Orange Lutheran goalie Brady Boudreau (yes, from that Boudreau family) struggled to stave off the Corona del Mar attack led by slick, smart CDM forward Jared Dror.
More than anything though, I was surprised by the amount of hitting in the game. Kids seemed to be going out of their way to finish their hits, and although physical play almost always makes for a more entertaining, hard-fought game, I also found myself horrified by the frequency of hits from behind.
The problem with hitting from behind is always two-fold. For starters, when approaching a player who has his front facing the boards, the onus is always on the potential hitter to let up. Conversely, the player with the puck near the boards must not make himself an easy target to be hit from behind. You never turn your back to a hit. Never. Hitting in hockey is a two-way street where the target often has just as much responsibility as the hitter in making safe choices.
The object of hitting in hockey is to separate the player from the puck – not to separate the player from himself. Surely these kids must know this. Judging by their skill level, they’ve all been playing hockey long enough to at least have learned how to position their bodies to minimize the risk of catastrophic injury – and the same goes for knowing to not hit another player facing the boards.
And yet, more than a handful of times during the CDM-Orange Lutheran game, I saw a player with the puck near the boards turn his back to an oncoming player, and get hit from behind. I was literally wincing every time one kid took a run at another kid with his numbers facing out.
All it takes is one mistake, one bad angle, one stupid hit to change a life forever. Just ask Jack Jablonski. The Anaheim Ducks High School league must be more proactive about minimizing hits from behind, and large part of this effort must be taken by the referees working the games.
To their credit, once the game was long out of reach for Orange Lutheran (which, no doubt contributed, I’m sure, to at least some of the physical play), the referee crew did hand out a five minute major and a game misconduct to Orange Lutheran forward Oscar Augustine. His was the most egregious example of checking from behind that I saw during the game, and could have ended very, very badly – but to my mind there were at least a handful of hits from behind prior to Augustine’s that at the very least deserved a penalty, if only to communicate that it will not be tolerated.
Now, I don’t have any children, but I plan to one day, and should they want to, I plan on having them play hockey. I grew up around the sport, and I fancy myself somewhat understanding of the dangers inherent to it – that said, if I was wincing every time one of these kids was hit from behind, I can only imagine how it makes the parent whose child is being hit feel.
There must be more accountability from all involved – the players on the ice, the coaches instructing them, the officials regulating the action, and the parents who sacrifice so much so that their child can play an expensive, niche sport.
And it’s a great sport – but only if everyone involved remembers that, especially at this level, it’s only a game, and there’s no sense in potentially permanently injuring another person. There is so much more to life than hockey, no matter the level. Sometimes people forget this. I just hope that it doesn’t require a catastrophic injury in the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League to remind us.