Dirty Players in Youth Hockey
Can we stop with all the slashing?
I took in four of my son's youth hockey games this past weekend -- two mite and two squirt -- at the AAA level.
All four of them were chippy.
By chippy, I mean things got a little rough.
Out of hand, even, where kids were slashing one another and pushing and shoving after the whistle.
Checking from behind? Yep, saw that too.
One game, my son's mite team definitely earned a reputation of being dirty which has left me disgusted.
For this, I partially blame the lax attitude of the referees for not policing things better from initial faceoff, preferring rather to get the game over with as fast as possible while doing the least amount of work.
I get it -- officiating youth hockey isn't super rewarding and, for many, they're just looking for their paycheck.
In their defense, the moment they start calling penalties, the parents start getting out of hand and, often times, things get even worse.
Really, the refs are in a tough situation and I totally respect that. It's just unfortunate.
Now I'm all for aggressive hockey -- the kids that show the most puck aggression are generally the players that stand out the most.
A lot of people attibute a player's apparent domination to speed, size, or even just a higher skill level but it really all comes back to the effort that they put in to acquiring the puck at the youth level.
The kids that want it the most, and work hard for it, are often rewarded with goals. I absolutely love that.
The HUGE downside to this otherwise great attribute is that it also leads to greed.
No worries, I'm not going to go down the 'puck hog' route as I've done that already.
But from what I noticed on the ice, from all 6 teams I saw skate, the most aggressive players -- and, frankly, the most talented ones -- all crossed the line into dirty player territory.
All of them.
And that's sad.
But I know why.
They're not bad kids. And I wouldn't lay blame on the coaching staffs either.
In our region, the glorification of players like Brad Marchand is the reason.
One hundred percent certain of it.
This first dirty thing you'll notice this type of player doing is slashing. Some folks call it stick checking and it often goes uncalled but, I'm sorry, any time your stick comes down hard on the shaft of an opposing players stick... that's a slash.
Don't pretend you're going for the puck.
What I hate most about this type of play is that, first, it never works. Players usually resort to it *after* they've already been beaten. They're poor sports.
If something never works, why do kids keep doing it? I don't have an answer.
The other part I hate about it is that it can break either players stick.
Sorry, no play in a youth level game is worth snapping a $100+ stick.
And, third, if the player misses and clips a shoulder, forearm, or finger -- yeah, that's gonna hurt.
Remember when Sidney Crosby chopped a piece of Marc Methot's finger off? Was he playing the puck? It wasn't even close.
It was a "stick check". Please...
It blows my mind how few players (and parents) know that you don't even have to make contact with the opposing player for it to be a slash.
Stick-on-stick is a penalty.
In fact, it doesn't matter where you slash a player, or even if you hit them or not. Hitting, or even attempting to hit, another player with your stick is "slashing".
The proper -- and LEGAL -- way to stick check is to lift the opponent's stick upward, press the opponent's stick down (to limit their stickhandling mobility), or poke, jab, or nudge at the blade of the stick to cause a loss of puck possession.
Anything performed windmill style is a slash.
At the youth level, this should be called everytime. It's not hockey.
You want to sword fight? Put on some pajamas and take up fencing.
(It's not permitted in fencing either. Sorry.)
Up next are the kids that hack at a goaltender when they have it covered... Usually they're the same kids that stick check.
I absolutely love it when kids go hard to net with their stick down.
And, yeah, I know people say that you should "play 'til you hear the whistle" but common sense and, bluntly, common decency should always take precidence.
Players know when a goalie has the puck in their glove or covered -- regardless of whether a non-attentive referee has blown the whistle or not. They know.
Hacking at a kid's hand is never acceptable. Never.
Even in the NHL, it shouldn't be acceptable. Ever.
Again, like the stick check, I've yet to see this method of play succeed at anything besides injuring a player.
It almost makes me smile when the guilty party is run over by a defenseman clearing the crease, after the whistle, or pushed away by the goaltender for such play.
What infuriates me most is when the guilty player retaliates as if they're not in the wrong...or worse, complains to the referees than "someone hit" them.
Hockey is not an eye-for-an-eye sport.
It's sad that style of play in the 70's and 80's, while exciting to watch, still haunts the game 40+ years later.
You hacked the goalie for no other reason than to take a cheap shot. You're in the wrong.
100% of the time.
Like in the NBA, when a player acquires a loose ball and comes up swinging elbows to clear everyone out. What is that?
I mean, I know it's just become an accepted part of the game but, seriously? It's obviously nothing more than an intent to injure someone.
If someone's too close to me in line at Burger King, it's not socially acceptable for me to start flagrantly throwing elbows at chin level to get more room.
That right there is what's wrong with youth sports -- it's become acceptable to do that on the field, on the ice, and on the court.
I wish referees would call "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" for every single incident.
Now, I get it. I've loved hockey since I was a kid and, yes, it's a fast and physical game. There should be contact and there's always a chance someone could get hurt.
Kids at the youth level, where checking isn't allowed, seem to have a solid grasp on the fact that they can't drill anybody into the boards -- you almost never see it happen.
Really, the kids hold up when they get near the boards and, as a result, they aren't afraid to go into the corners and that's awesome. It's hockey done right.
And every hockey parent knows that plastic-on-plastic sound of two kids colliding and bumping heads. Often times the kids are even on the same team and, pretty frequently, one of the kids stays down. It happens. And I don't think anyone has an issue with that type of, while often injury inducing, accidental collision.
But the deliberate attempts -- where one kid just runs over another for no reason, or the cross checks to the head, or slew footing, or the headbutting, or the slashes that come from a stick raised over the head have no place in the game.
For real, punches were thrown -- haymakers -- in the hallway from the locker room to the ice surface BEFORE one of the games even started.
That's not hockey. And it's not competitive spirit on display either.
It's a reckless violent outburst.
I was about to make a compilation video to post but thought better of it. It's horrible that it would be so easy to make a video of kids hurting other kids. Disgusting, like I said earlier.
They're bullies on ice. I'll even call them a--holes, I don't care.
Kids -- kids with talent -- are afraid to play the game as a result.
Can't blame them -- I know I've never been a fan of an elbow to the face for attempting to play the game the way it's meant to be played.
The trash talking and cheap shots that make YouTube highlight reels at the professional level are commonplace at the youth level. Watch one youth sporting event and you'll see and hear f-bombs flying out of the mouths of 8 year-olds.
Legit, seven year old hockey players take head shots while making no play on the puck at all...and the refs aren't calling it.
Why on earth are seven and eight year olds targetting other kids' heads? It's so stupid.
You ask them why they do it and they'll shrug their shoulders.
It's because they get away with it.
In some quarters, the Brad Marchand's backstory can seen as one of admirable redemption. You know, an undersized guy who worked hard and never gave up on his NHL dream that went on to be one of the NHL's scoring leaders. Wow, isn’t that wonderful?
I only met him once, briefly, while he was with the Providence Bruins at the onset of his professional career and he came across as someone I probably wouldn't want to hang out with, mischievously pompous, but I wouldn’t be the least surprised if he was another in a long line of dirty players who are teddy bears away from the rink and have hearts of gold. He’s probably one of those guys who makes all kinds of time for fans, visits sick kids in the hospital, and helps old ladies cross the street.
I see pictures of him smiling at team events like this all the time.
One of those character guys who’s "great in the room" -- you hear that all the time in pro hockey circles.
For me, don’t care.
Brad Marchand, and countless players like him (Tom Wilson, cough, cough), have no business being anywhere near an NHL ice surface.
Marchand's on-ice antics are disrespectful and dangerous and really add very little to the game.
Bruins fans love him, and yeah, I get that having a "pest" in the lineup can be really beneficial...but in addition to deliberately attempting to injure opponents, he was licking players too.
You really want licking opposing players to be commonplace in hockey?
If the answer is yes, you're not a hockey fan. Go watch WWE.
In his case, it's sad too cause he clearly has the talent to play the game at a super high level.
But what kills me the most is that his style of play is the type of play the kids are imitating. Players on my sons' teams idolize the guy.
Really, nearly every youth team in New England has a kid wearing #63.
Using other Bruins as examples, Patrice Bergeron is just as skilled but doesn't resort to openly attempting to injure guys in the other colour jersey. Same goes for David Pasternak and David Kreji.
Those four players, Marchand, Bergeron, Pasternak, and Kreji are Boston's 4 leading scorers.
Bergeron, Pasternak, and Kreji account for 10 minutes in penalties total through 17 games this season (2018-19).
Marchand has 48 minute all by himself.
What I wish I could get through to these kids is that they're far more valuable to their team when they're playing more like those other 3 players.
Can't score when you're in the penalty box.
The issue, though, is that the refs at the youth levels aren't calling penalties on them often enough when they display this type of negative aggression...and the kids are getting away with it.
Call the penalty. Call it every single time.
And give the repeat offenders a game misconduct.
Now I'm fully aware that some will read all of this and think, "Hey, if you're not tough enough to play hockey, get off the ice."
"Your kid is a coward."
And to that, I'd say, "Hockey is a game. It's supposed to be fun."
No one is supposed to get hurt playing the game. And no one should be afraid of being assaulted while playing the game.
I played in a mens league for years and then transitioned over playing in a roller hockey league...but had to quit.
I was afraid.
First, I started wearing a full cage cause I'd been clipped in the face so many times that it's a miracle I haven't broken any of my front teeth or my nose.
That lasted around a year...and then I just quit entirely -- the style of play wasn't fun anymore.
Laugh if you like, but I'm married, I have 3 kids, and I have a job I need to go to each morning.
Often times, and moreso towards the end of my playing days, the opponents were single guys in their 20's jumping from job-to-job or still living with their parents that were looking to knock someone out each game.
I mean, I'm 42 years old. No, I don't want to meet you in the parking lot to "settle" anything after the game.
Oh, okay, you're going to punch me in the face right here then.
Sure am glad I have a great job that allows me to have stellar dental insurance for moments just like these.
You might think I'm exaggerating but I'm not.
It got to the point where, yeah, I was afraid to play in certain games because I knew I was surrounded by players that were deliberately trying to hurt me.
Last game I played as a rostered player, I broke my ribs. Actually, I didn't break them -- some 20-something felt like taking a run at someone who didn't even have the puck. That guy broke my ribs.
I saw him coming and knew he was going to hit me...but it didn't matter.
He was pretty proud of himself for knocking me out of the game which puzzles me to this day. What kind of person enjoys hurting someone else?
As I'd had the wind knocked out of me, I wasn't able to ask him if he'd like to "settle things" further in the parking lot afterward. That's obviously not my style anyway.
So, yeah, I was hurt. I flung a number of expletives his way once I'd gotten back up but, damn, I knew I was hurt. Why does that hurt so much?
No penalty called as it was nowhere near the play but that didn't really matter. Even if there'd been a penalty, he'd have spent 2 minutes in the penalty box and I couldn't fully inhale without pain for two months.
Yeah, sorry. That's not fun.
And we're plaing for playing for a plastic trophy. How ridiculous is that?
So, I'm not certain that it's a question of toughness. It's more about how you prioritize the things you value.
For me, personally, going to work with a full set of teeth is more important than winning a plastic trophy with a bunch of guys I'd likely not hang out with if we weren't on the same team.
Not disrupting the day-to-day routine of my wife and kids cause I hurt myself playing what was supposed to be a "fun" game is important to me.
And you can extrapolate that all the way down to mite aged kids.
I mean, I knew when I was in kindergarten that I didn't want to play with the kids that pinched or punched each others arms for fun cause, well, I don't enjoy that sort of thing.
I wasn't the problem -- those kids were -- so I just didn't hang out with them. Served me pretty well.
In youth hockey, kids don't have that option because they're in a plexiglass enclosure with the kids swinging their sticks like swords.
There's no where to go...so they quit.
I'd prefer to get the thugs out of the game.
The NHL has mostly figured it out. I hope the youth leagues follow suit.
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