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Rules more effective than equipment in hockey
The sport of hockey has grown substantially since its inception. Over the generations the sports has evolved into what it is today, a sport of speed and strength. As the sport has evolved the protective equipment has also evolved, in order to keep pace with changing game play injuries. Is the protective equipment utilized by ice hockey players sufficient in protecting the athletes participating in the sport? Or is it the changes to the rules that have begun to stem the tide of injury rates in this new age of hockey?
Ice hockey in North America can be traced back to 1783 (“The avoidability of head and neck injuries in ice hockey: an historical review” 410). However, it may have been played even earlier than that. Hockey remained mostly uncommon until the late 1800s. In the late 1800s and early 1900s leagues began to form and later protective equipment was beginning to be appear utilized.
In the 1920s padding was used to keep warm as it was to protect (“The avoidability of head and neck injuries in ice hockey: an historical review” 410). Up until the 1900s, hockey for most of its existence has been played outdoors, the first indoor ice rink was built in 1912 in Vancouver, Canada (“The avoidability of head and neck injuries in ice hockey: an historical review” 410). When the games moved indoors the playing surface became smaller and the players become more prone to contact with another player.
With the newfound risk of increased player contact the protective equipment began to improve. In the 1930s the players began to wear shoulder pads, in the 1940s elbow pads appeared, and in the 1950s helmets began to appear (“The avoidability of head and neck injuries in ice hockey: an historical review” 410). With the protective equipment in place the improvement and regulation of the equipment could begin.
The protective equipment invented or developed during the transition from outdoor play to indoor play provided the physical barrier between the player and the puck or other player. The protective equipment from this time period remain today in many ways the same, the helmet, the shoulder pads, and elbow pads all remain with the same basic design, only constructed using different materials. Protective equipment was created to provide basic protection, such as protection from a puck striking a player in the chest or preventing a players head from striking the boards or ice.
If injury rates are changing and the protective equipment has remained basically the same what is affecting the injury rates? Most rules in the world, they are meant for the protection and safety of those involved, and hockey is no exception. Within each league and each country the rules varied, but remained similar throughout the world. As the injury rates rose rules were put in place to counter the rising injury rates and companies came out with more advanced equipment to lower the injury rates as well. In many cases this has worked wonderfully and decreased the injury rates substantially over time. In 1974-75 new rules involving high sticking and hooking penalties reduced the total number of eye injuries from about 220 to 80 in 1976-77(“The avoidability of head and neck injuries in ice hockey: an historical review” 417). However, this only proves that the changing of rules is effective. In the same study, the introduction of mandatory use of a full facemask helmets, 1978-79, was followed by a rise in the total number of eye injuries and an even bigger, proportionally, increase in blinding injuries(“The avoidability of head and neck injuries in ice hockey: an historical review” 417).
During the 1997-98 Canadian Inter-University Athletics Union hockey season, a study was conducted to see weather or not the use of a full facemask or a half shield was more effective