The North American Hockey League (NAHL), now in its 37th season of being the largest and oldest junior hockey league in the United States, has announced an initiative of awareness geared towards new and improved standards for player safety for the almost 600 players currently playing in the NAHL this season. It is all part of an ongoing project and initiative in cooperation with the NAHL’s governing body, USA Hockey, to implement new standards that will focus on protecting the players and creating a new standard of awareness among the players, coaches and administrators that are an essential part of the league’s core success.
The NAHL, along with USA Hockey, are working together to create a more positive environment for the athletes to participate in by strengthening the rules as they are related to dangerous actions and behaviors. This is being done through a league-wide NAHL Code of Conduct policy. The purpose was to address the unwanted behaviors and to review all existing playing rules, identifying those actions that negatively impact the game, and developing a supplementary discipline guideline that addresses these actions and would be acceptable to the participating junior stakeholders. Each NAHL player, coach and official will be required to review these documents and acknowledge their acceptance of the principles of the initiative and signify their commitment to properly enforce the rules of the game while adhering to the NAHL Code of Conduct.
“Player safety is not a new priority for the NAHL,” said NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. "Our supplemental discipline structure that we currently utilize has performed extremely well for many years. The main benefit for this nationally supported initiative will be the awareness and education handed over to the players to help them understand the consequences of unwanted and dangerous actions, and that understanding will lead to a higher level of respect for the opposing player as well as the game of hockey."
One of the first steps was to create a progressive suspension strategy to identify repeat offenders and serve as a deterrent to all players from engaging in dangerous actions and behavior that is detrimental to the competitive aspect of the game. These negative behaviors include: unsportsmanlike actions, increased stick work and other violent or intimidating actions that are clearly negative factors in the game. This initiative was developed with the understanding that the NAHL stakeholders, fans, players, coaches, officials and team operators are committed to creating a safe and fair environment in which the players can compete. It is also with the understanding that junior hockey is primarily an attendance-driven entertainment industry that must provide a product that allows for the passion and excitement that is at the heart of the game.
The NAHL has also continued to be proactive with its equipment suppliers to continue their commitment to providing all players in the NAHL with the best, most protective equipment possible. An example of this is the ongoing partnership between the NAHL and The Messier Project, which outfits all of the league’s players in the groundbreaking M11 helmet. Now in its third season of partnering with the NAHL, the mission of The Messier Project is to address the issue of head injuries and concussion, which have become an epidemic in hockey, through public awareness, product development, and equipment education.
“The NAHL was the first league of its kind to adopt a league-wide partnership with The Messier Project, which has been instrumental on focusing on being proactive and at the forefront of the issue of head injuries and concussions,” said Frankenfeld. “Our players’ safety has always been a top priority and our partnership with our equipment suppliers only re-enforces that commitment. Our game is played at a very fast-paced and high level, and we want our players to have the confidence that they need to perform to the best of their abilities, with the full knowledge that have the maximum amount of protection each time they step on the ice.”