The Panthers mandated that all of their players wear full face protection this season, making them the first Junior B team in B.C. to do so. (Steven Heywood/News staff)

BC Hockey makes full face protection mandatory at the Junior B level

Changes in effect across B.C. next season

Junior B hockey players across the province will be wearing full face protection next season.

In a memorandum sent this week to BC Hockey’s Junior Committee, Chief Executive Officer Barry Petrachenko stated the BC Hockey board of directors “has mandated that full face protection is required by all BC Hockey Junior B players starting for the 2018-2019 season.”

The requirement will go into effect in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL), Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL), two B.C. teams in the North West Junior Hockey League (Fort St. John Huskies and the Dawson Creek Junior Canucks). It also covers the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) — where the Peninsula Panthers in North Saanich have already adopted the change this season.

The change will not be implemented at the Junior A level in B.C., or in the Western Hockey League (WHL).

Panthers’ Governor and General Manager Pete Zubersky announced the change for his team alongside BC Hockey in August, prior to the start of the 2018 – 2018 season.

“Everybody in this league … can think of a time when a visor or face cage could have prevented an injury,” Zubersky said at the time.

Petrachenko said during the summer that BC Hockey supports Peninsula’s move to prevent player injury. He said Zubersky met with him earlier this year, after VIJHL league meetings resulted in no solid action to adopt full face protection. At the time, Petrachenko said change takes time and BC Hockey will be looking at statistics over the season and will speak with its other junior hockey member associations about further action.

President of the VIJHL Barb Byrne says the league did not adopt full face shields this season, as the team ownership was split on the issue. As well, adopting the policy would require teams to buy new equipment. She said by the time the discussion was on the table, most teams already had their budgets set for the season.

“Pete (Zubersky) was adamant that it was the right thing to do,” Byrne said. “And he was in a better position to do it that some of the other teams.”

Byrne said she supports the BC Hockey edict for next season, noting that Zubersky “was visionary” and forward-thinking in adopting the policy for the Panthers.

“It’s great news for everybody, especially our players,” she said. “We are a developmental league and we don’t want to be assisting in disabling or disfiguring them.”

Byrne said adopting full face protection for the players will have an immediate impact by reducing the amount of face injuries and dental claims. Not only will it ensure better player safety, but Byrne added it will save the league and its teams insurance costs.

She said last season saw around four or five different face injuries and approximately $40,000 in dental claims.

Byrne noted the league’s members met around 10 days ago, where the subject was raised. She said they are still talking and plan to do so on January 8. On the table is discussion on whether the league — or individual teams — will be responsible for purchasing the face shields prior to next season.

There was some player resistance to the change among the Panthers, Zubersky said, but after a few games they have become used to it. Players spend their entire minor hockey years wearing full face protection and would generally drop it at higher levels.

There’s been a learning curve in the VIJHL this season, as a result of the Panthers’s face shields. Byrne said there’s been some issues within the league over how rules and penalties are interpreted by the referees.

“There’s been a feeling that the rules are being called differently,” she said, adding it will be a topic at upcoming league meetings.

Panthers’ coach Brad Tippett said his players are now used to the face shields and the referees in the league had adapted as well. On Saturday night, he said one of his players was struck in the face by an inadvertent stick and continued to play as normal.

“If he hadn’t been wearing that (shield) he might have lost some of his teeth,” Tippett said.

Tippett said the team set out to better protect their players. He added hockey is heading in this direction anyway, so they just got out ahead of the curve. Tippett said he wears a full face shield when he plays old timers hockey.

“I couldn’t ask the players to do it if I wasn’t willing to do it myself.”

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