The United States Hockey League on Wednesday announced a ground-breaking pilot program that will focus on player safety and injury prevention.
A few of the five primary initiatives will be launched at the annual USHL Fall Classic that runs Wednesday through Saturday in Sioux City, Iowa. That includes new regulations governing dangerous play, and continuous monitoring, review, early intervention and supplementary discipline by the commissioner's office.
The USHL also will hold regular conferences among the league's hockey operations group, competition committee, head coaches, officials and players on how to improve play; focus on the improvement of equipment; and devise a more consistent way of tracking injuries.
"We take our position as USA Hockey's Tier 1 League very seriously," USHL President and Commissioner Skip Prince said in a statement. "We've been concerned by the increase of 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."
Every USHL player, official and coach will be issued a Hockey Education and Respect Guidebook that will detail the new regulations and procedures, focusing on respect for the opposing team and the game.
The office staff of the commissioner will meet individually with each team during the USHL Fall Classic this week to explain the new regulations and disciplinary procedures. The league's hockey operations department and head of officials will conduct regular telephone and video conferences throughout the season with the league's coaches, general managers and players to review calls and disciplinary action.
"We applaud the USHL for its leadership in working with USA Hockey on a proactive approach to player respect and safety in our game," Jim Johannson, USA Hockey assistant executive director of hockey operations, said. "This pilot program is a significant step forward and will benefit all involved, particularly the players."
The USHL effort, in consultation with the NHL, has received the cooperation of the league's 15 owners, together with USA Hockey, in the planning and institution of the player safety initiative over the past year.
The USHL representatives have worked closely with CCM to insure that the best equipment in the industry is provided for players. Protective gear specifications, helmet fittings and equipment review are part of CCM's daily interaction with America's top junior-hockey league.
All USHL players, not just those age 18 and older, will be given the option of wearing the approved Oakley three-quarter face shield instead of a full cage, which provides a better visual field for players. Some hockey industry experts believe this opportunity would cut down on the number of injury-insensitive plays at the elite level.
The NCAA also is pursuing a similar initiative so that collegiate players will be able to use the protective shield in future seasons.
"The USHL has always been a progressive, forward-thinking league," Green Bay Gamblers coach/GM Derek Lalonde said. "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."
The USHL has specified a number of what it terms "dangerous play" minor penalties, which include elbowing, head contact and kneeing, and will monitor and review along with all major penalties (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 intervention and education. Multiple penalties in any category will be subject to supplementary discipline.
"We recognize our responsibility to deliver the world's best young players to the next level … the NCAA and NHL," Prince said. "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."