Parents play an important injury prevention role in ice hockey

“Our finding of increasing head impact severity with decreasing anticipation suggests that coaches should target this aspect of ice hockey in their technical development of players during practices, to promote the skills necessary to keep the safety of participants at the forefront.”  

Jason Mihalik

Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Mihalik research proves that by anticipating a collision a player can reduce the injury. He advises that players be in a stable position which includes a heads up stance, flexed knees and hips, feet shoulder-width apart and using legs to drive shoulders through the collision. His conclusion in effect leads us to a very significant core problem which may be contributing to serious injuries faster than we realize; skill deficiency and lack of practice.

Previously, I have written blogs based on research done by former NHL hockey coach George Kingston which essentially confirmed the same thing.  The Kingston Study and now the Mihalik Study come from different perspectives however they conclude with the same advice; more practice time to develop the skills necessary to play and in today`s hockey world, that means safer.

The safety of hockey players is now more than ever an increasing issue. Stop Sport Injuries was created to help support the prevention of athletic overuse and trauma injuries in kids. Their Council of Champions includes business, sports and medical leaders and was established to advocate this message and actively engage youth sports parents, coaches, athletes and healthcare providers.

The Stop Sport Injuries campaign is responding to the growing epidemic of preventable youth sports injuries. They believe the intrinsic hazards of playing hockey cannot be completely eliminated, but the risk of injury can be substantially reduced. Click on their link for further information:

The Stop Sport Injuries is one of many great organizations focussed on injury prevention and treatment awareness. They provide tips for parents, coaches, associations and health professionals. It would be great to see these admirable organizations promoting technical skill development and practicing as an injury prevention tool. Dr. Mihalik and his colleagues have advised this in their study funded by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment and the USA Hockey Foundation.

It seems far more effective to me that all parents of hockey players embrace the realities of hockey related injuries with a greater sense of responsibility. As a hockey parent, I believe it is our responsibility to ensure our kids are well protected which more than ever includes being very well prepared before they go on the ice surface! This core value of keeping our kids safe applies across the board and should not stop when we drop them off at the rink. Parents can play a very significant role in better understanding the advice of Kingston and Mihalik and engaging in the development process off the ice with their kids.

Paul Behner  is the President of Skillz Systems Inc.; their program QuickStickz teaches hockey players how to stickhandle safely.


Nova Scotia Company uses international stickhandling competition to promote safer, smarter hockey


Halifax, N.S. – March 6, 2012- On March 1, Nova Scotia company, Skillz Systems, launched an online competition to the users of its product QuickStickz; a video game that teaches hockey players how to stickhandle with their head up.  Within a few hours, there was widespread interest from players around the world.

“You can’t play QuickStickz with your head down – it trains you to look up while mastering the important skill of handling the puck,” says company president, Paul Behner. “If you control the puck, you control the game. Keeping your head up is critical to a hockey players success and safety.”

Former professional hockey player and company vice-president, Dean Dachyshyn, recognizes there isn’t enough time devoted to stickhandling during practice. “You cannot become an elite hockey player without great stickhandling skills. With your head up you can see the entire ice, see open teammates, shoot to score, and most importantly you can avoid body checks and incidental contact.”

Recently QuickStickz has caught the attention of hockey trainer and coach, Jim Vitale, of Vital Hockey Skills: “{QuickStickz} has to be one of the best concussion prevention tools out there”.

QuickStickz combines the love of hockey and video games and allows players to master their skills while having fun. Using a favourite hockey stick, a computer and Internet access, QuickStickz can be played virtually anywhere at any time. The Internet-based system includes many hockey specific drills and video games that aren’t related to hockey. The system tracks each player’s progress in real time while providing a chance to compete against other users.

The “200 Minute Stickhandling Challenge” is an opportunity for users to win prizes during the month of March. There are also milestone prizes for the players who reach 50, 100, 150 and 200 minutes, the ‘Most Valuable Player’ (most minutes played) and ‘Most Dedicated Player’ (most days played). To learn more visit

About  Skillz  Systems  Inc.

Skillz Systems developed a fun and interactive game, QuickStickz, to improve hockey players’ stick handling skills. The product integrates advanced sensor technology and data analysis tools into an engaging, physically-interactive video game that motivates players to practice their skills while using proper techniques. The company won the Innovacorp I-3 Technology Start-up Competition in the Halifax Region in 2007. Skillz Systems is currently developing a national heads up hockey program to advocate a smarter, safer game.

For more information, please contact:

Paul Behner                                       Dean Dachyshyn

President,                                           Vice President,

902.209.5960                                     902.407.3883        





Should Bodychecking in PeeWee Hockey Be Allowed….Yes or No?

The University of Calgary completed a study in June 2010, which has found bodychecking in peewee-level hockey triples the risk of concussions and other injuries sustained by players aged 11 and 12.

See the attached link for the study as reported by Allison Cross, Canwest News Service June 8, 2010: *italics indicates direct quotes from the study and/or article.

“We need to figure out how to prevent these injuries in youth ice hockey,” said the author, Carolyn Emery, a kinesiology professor at the University of Calgary. “It’s a significant public health issue. These are young players and we wanted to identify the risks in the most rigorous way.”

Carolyn Emery is also a sport epidemiologist and athletic therapist, as well as a hockey parent and coach.

The study monitored 74 teams in Alberta, where bodychecking is permitted, and 76 teams in Quebec, where it is not. The results confirmed the Alberta players suffered 209 injuries with 73 reported concussions, while the Quebec players suffered 70 injuries with only 20 concussions.

“The public health impact is clear — if bodychecking were eliminated in Alberta (peewee), it is estimated that out of the 8,826 players registered, we could prevent over 1,000 game-related injuries per year and over 400 game-related concussions per year,” she said.

In total, notwithstanding the significant differences in the numbers, nearly 150 teams being studied had 93 concussions. How many concussions were the result of incidental contact or inadequately developed stickhandling skills in the heads up position?

Hockey Canada permits bodychecking at the peewee level and above, although individual leagues have the choice to not allow it. “We review all research and try to understand its application to the game,” said Paul Carson, Hockey Canada’s development director. “(We need) to ensure that the things we are doing help to minimize the risks inherent to the way the games is played.”

Carson believes either way there will be risks to the players if they play hockey with bodychecking or hockey without it. “We are talking about the way the game is played,” he said. “There’s still the risk of injury in both scenarios. Does the risk increase with the introduction of body checking? Yes, we understand that. We understand the data.”

Allison Cross questions the logic of bodychecking, “Do 11 year old kids really need to be checking one another? Hockey is a physical game, but at that stage of their development, shouldn’t kids be focusing on skating skills? Checking is one thing at the high school and collegiate level, but do 11 year olds even have the body control on skates to protect themselves in the event of a collision?” Allison Cross,

I believe more positive results can be achieved by seeking Hockey Canada’s assistance to take a more proactive position in support of best practices for stickhandling skill development.

Instead, let’s shift the focus to reduce concussions that happen frequently when players learn to improperly handle the puck or take bodychecks with their head down. Your comments would be very much appreciated.

Paul Behner  is the President of Skillz Systems Inc.; their program QuickStickz teaches hockey players how to stickhandle safely.

Playing “Heads-up” Hockey with Purpose….But How?

In 2004, Hockey USA developed their version of “Heads up Hockey” guidelines to promote much needed awareness toward better, smarter and most importantly safer hockey experiences. The program is an excellent resource for all minor hockey associations and parent groups in support of better and safer hockey conditions. I invite you to view their link:

Ron Wilson, who at the time was National Coaching Advisor for USA Heads Up Hockey and Head Coach Team USA 2004 World Cup Of Hockey, believes “players haven’t yet developed their reflexes and skating skills….and don’t have the experience they need to make smart on-the-fly judgments.”

It seems logical that a “heads up” program would have inspired significant cultural changes on many levels to achieve smarter and safer hockey. However, deeper understanding is needed to reach desired outcomes including a shift in education, behaviour changes and  stronger focus on injury prevention.  Meanwhile serious injuries in hockey at all levels have gone up while the interest in minor hockey has gone down.


A recent research study funded by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment and the USA Hockey Foundation, concluded “that anticipated collisions tended to result in less severe head impacts than unanticipated collisions, especially for medium-intensity impacts”.

As reported by the CBC in their article, ‘Keep head up’ hockey advice gains proof on May 16, 2010:

“Jason Mihalik of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his colleagues reported the severity of head impacts can be reduced in young hockey players who anticipate a collision, particularly for moderate-intensity impacts. Moderate impacts are serious enough to cause potential injury but don’t stand out as dangerous to a coach, parent or players, Mihalik said.

“I think parents need to appreciate that concussions can occur over a wide range of impact — it’s not necessarily the more severe impacts that will cause injury. We’ve seen collisions that we’ve often dismissed as very trivial as causing concussion in young hockey players,” Mihalik said in an interview.

“You want to be heads-up, you want to see what you’re hitting, you want to see that you’re about to get hit. But you also want to be in a ready athletic position to absorb the forces of that collision,” Mihalik said.

For full article, visit

Hockey parents can take comfort in the alignment of interests in safer hockey between hockey organizations, their advisors and the medical community. Until recently, both share the collective goal of advocating “heads-up hockey” with for skill and safety. The break down as I see it is in teaching and training players how to practice and play with their head-up as a mandatory and proven skill. The bottom line is players must practice this essential skill everyday if we want to prevent injuries. and parents have a responsibility to ensure this habit is carefully formed.

Paul Behner  is the President of Skillz Systems Inc.; their program QuickStickz teaches hockey players how to stickhandle safely.

Connecting the Dots on Safety in Canadian Minor Hockey

Minor hockey associations across Canada have worked extensively with Hockey Canada to create development guidelines for the benefit of all players. Of course the passion and interest levels among parents and players vary greatly depending on many other factors. For certain, all parents, coaches and associations agree on one thing in hockey- SAFETY.

Many hockey parents choose to support their sons and daughters with quality equipment, training, encouragement and financial contributions to the best of their ability. Often, this means parents end up sacrificing, but do it naturally because their precious memories and investment during the early years is priceless.  Starting from Tim Bits, players either participate recreationally or competitively which can be equally rewarding. Regardless, development of core skills is essential while injury prevention is an integral part of managing safe hockey. Upon reflection, how do we know our children are properly prepared to be on the ice in game situations?

As noted by Ontario Minor Hockey Association’s skill development guidelines:

“……where do youngsters develop the skills of the game? Evidence would suggest that the games model in Canada slows the development of players.  In a study done by current NHL Coach George Kingston in 1976 he found that the average player in the Canadian system spent 17.6 minutes on the ice during a typical game and was in possession of the puck for an astonishingly low 41 seconds.  Kingston concluded that in order to get one hour of quality work in the practicing of the basic skills of puck control, (that is, stick handling, passing, pass receiving and shooting) approximately 180 games would have to be played.”

As a matter of fact, the ratio of games to practices in minor hockey is limited to ice availability and time frame constraints so the standards as noted in 1976 have not improved much. The obvious issue is that our players do not have adequate support to develop the necessary skills to keep them safer on the ice. In the same way players are required to participate in checking clinics, they should also be pre-qualified for proper puck handling skills.

In summary, lack of ice time = insufficient skill development/practice time = inadequate stick handling skills = lower on-ice awareness = higher exposure rates to injuries.

Players still do not dedicate enough time practicing this important skill in the proper heads up position before progressing on to further development. Indeed this is a serious problem but it’s already half solved because as parents we now know better. The solution is a commitment to adopt best practices which prioritize proper stick handling training programs. Our player’s safety depends on it.

Paul Behner  is the President of Skillz Systems Inc.; their program QuickStickz teaches hockey players how to stickhandle safely.

Safety Concerns in Minor Hockey on the Rise

In a Toronto Sun article (March 2011), the President of Hockey Canada, Bob Nicholson, acknowledges parents concerns about their kids’ safety on the ice. Mr. Nicholson has seen enrolments decline two  years in a row and recognized that increased injuries (1 in 7 NHLers suffered concussions in the 2011 season) could lead to even sharper declines.  Read the full article here:

This past week, Hockey Mom in Canada posted a question on her Facebook page about the reasons behind declining hockey enrolment in Canada. Many took the time to respond. See the thread here – (great site – take a second to ‘like’ and join the discussion). As anticipated, one of the most frequently mentioned reasons was “injury” or “bodychecking”. The question posted on her site now is whether hockey is more dangerous, or less, for our kids now? I commented on the post and will summarize here.

This is a great question for all levels of minor hockey across Canada and parents should be concerned while being an advocate for proactive changes. Some of the comments on the blog suggested that hockey is faster and more physical than ever, that body checking should be ruled out while others suggested clinics be mandatory for both players and coaches.

Though I agree that more can be done to make the game safer and more enjoyable and there is a good debate to be had about ruling out body-checking in minor hockey, I am of the mind that we should focus on the core problem first. It is very well documented that proper development of puck handling skills (with head up) is lacking compared to other skills and product evolution (George Kingston 1976 and 2002.) To back this up, the NCAA reports Women’s ice hockey which prohibits body checking has injury rates which are two times that of Men’s ice hockey. This data proves that we need to make on-ice awareness a priority for all players. Injury prevention is an outcome we all want to see and this can be achieved with much more dedication to proper puck handling training. Additionally, players must learn how to give and take checks properly with their heads up. The object of the game is to control the puck; we can prevent injuries if we teach players how to do this with their heads up.

As always I invite further comment.

Paul Behner  is the President of Skillz Systems Inc.; their program QuickStickz teaches hockey players how to stickhandle safely.


Sidney Crosby and Eric Lindros have several things in common

“Keep your head up” and “head on a swivel”…..words often repeated by many hockey coaches and parents of players to reinforce their on-ice safety awareness. These words couldn’t be any more important than they are today.

Sidney Crosby and Eric Lindros have several things in common. “Both were drafted first overall into the NHL. Both won the league MVP in their early 20’s, both were Captain of Team Canada at the Olympics, and both were hailed as the next Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux. And then, in the fraction of a second, both fell victim to devastating concussions. (MacLean’s Magazine May 30, 2011).

While Crosby’s return to play the game of hockey is expected, Eric Lindros has had to hang up the blades for good after several serious on ice concussions from heavy body checks. Obviously, these two players prepared and performed as two completely different individuals, yet have both crossed paths of fate from concussions.

In his own words, Eric Lindros had this to say to TSN (Nov.9, 2007) while announcing his early retirement from Hockey when asked if he had any regrets…. “I wish I had practiced more with my head up”. MacLean’s calls Lindros one of the greatest players in the NHL. He is 6’4” and 255 lbs, but size couldn’t keep him safe. “Lindros wants to see the NHL make the game safer…..”

A number of organizations have evolved that are working toward promoting safety awareness and prevention. Once such organization, Think First, is a welcome addition to the sport of hockey and has significant insight into safer hockey. Great to see Think First has support of Scotiabank and Reebok too! For more click on this link;

As always, your feedback and ideas are welcome.

Until then, be safe.


Paul Behner  is the President of Skillz Systems Inc.; their program QuickStickz teaches hockey players how to stickhandle safely.