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Eyeing Safety, National Federation Toughens Ice Hockey Rules

The National Federation of State High School Associations board of directors recently approved a handful of rule changes for ice hockey that aim to reduce the number of injuries student-athletes suffer.

One of the rule changes specifies that players will receive a major penalty (five minutes in length) and a misconduct penalty (an additional 10 minutes in length) penalty if they "push, charge, cross-check or body-check" an opponent from behind into the boards or goal frame. If the violation is deemed flagrant by officials, the student-athlete will instead be ejected from the game.

This particular rule change actually builds on a modification approved in 2012, which sought to more clearly define what actually constitutes a check from behind. The 2012 version of the rule assigned a minor (two minutes in length) and misconduct penalty to student-athletes who checked a player from behind while skating on open ice, and ejected those who checked an opponent from behind into the boards or a goal frame.

The new version of the rule switches the penalty for such a check from a minor and misconduct to a major and misconduct, at the bare minimum.

"Checking from behind is the most dangerous act in the sport," said Dan Schuster, NFHS assistant director of coach education, in a statement. "With all of its rules changes, the goal of the committee is to minimize the risk of injury."

Back on Dec. 30, 2011, a Minnesota youth-hockey player named Jack Jablonski was checked from behind and forced headfirst into the boards, severing his spinal cord. Less than two weeks later, 18-year-old Jenna Privette experienced a similar hit and fell down, unable to move.

The two hits prompted the Minnesota State High School League to immediately toughen penalties for players who checked from behind, violently checked a player into the boards, or made contact with another player's head or neck.

The national federation board went beyond that. It also approved a change that prohibits players from "deliver[ing] a check to an unsuspecting and vulnerable player," in an effort to remove blind-side hits from the game.

"This helps protect the defenseless player," Schuster said in a statement. "The committee is striving to take these dangerous and unnecessary hits out of the game."

Additionally, the board approved a change that requires play to stop immediately if a goalie's glove becomes dislodged. All three rule changes were recommended by the NFHS Ice Hockey Rules Committee after a meeting in Indianapolis last month.

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