BY HALEY BECZA
With the winter months come freezing temperatures and icy conditions, but there is no chill like that of a hockey rink. Ice hockey is believed to have evolved from the 19th century out of Canada from stick and ball games on ice-covered surfaces. The development of this loved-by-many sport is constantly changing, but the dangers on the ice are always a factor.
Bauer, a leading manufacturer of hockey equipment, produces skates available in sizes for children, with feet the size of an average three-year-old. From the moment those skates are laced up, players and parents alike are faced with the possibility of severe, life-changing injuries.
Mikey Nichols, 17, playing the center position for the Monroe High School Falcons, was checked from behind with his head down in a game. According to several local newspapers, Nichols was hit into the boards and broke his C5 vertebrae. This injury could prevent the 17-year-old from ever walking again, let alone skating.
It is safe to assume that the question on most spectators’ minds Jan. 4 is if the sport is really worth the risk.
“I was always aware of what could happen because it was my job,” said Pat Coffey, 19, student at County College of Morris. “It all comes back to teaching kids how to hit and just playing the game as smart as possible.”
Coffey, played hockey from an early age. Even though he does not play at a collegiate level, he is still active on the ice. Over his four year tenure of high-school-level hockey, he suffered from five concussions.
“I played hockey from a real young age and I did know the dangers,” stated former Jefferson Township Falcons hockey player and recent CCM graduate, Ian Bohman. “I never felt like the coaches or the school went through enough to push on new players the severity of making clean hits.”
Checking is introduced officially during the PeeWee level, which is ages 11-12. Body checking has rules and regulations that depend on the league and the level. Body checking can be penalized when performed recklessly. There are multiple types of checking, some completely illegal and some with their own set of guidelines.
“If a kid has his head down you notice from the bench and someone is always pointing it out,” Coffey stated. “First thing you learn in hockey is keep your head up. It’s THE phrase.”
While Coffey, always remembered being told to keep his head up, he can also remember a few times where he got hit with his head down and thought to himself that he needs to be more aware.
“I think there should be a practice at the start of every season that goes through all the risks and motions of how injuries happen and how to avoid them,” Bohman said. “There’s a certain way to ideally fall into the boards and I think they need to make that more clear to all the players, new and old.”
Young Nichols, has been in the hospital since this hit and a fundraiser has been established online and has already exceeded $50,000. It is a GiveForward account under the name “Prayers for Mikey.” There is also a Facebook page for Nichols with updates on his recovery.