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Rink staff have been concerned for some time that the youth who play shinny hockey at outdoor rinks are dwindling in numbers at many city rinks. The rinks that focus on strict helmet rule enforcement for shinny hockey (i.e. not Dufferin Rink) seem to be losing skaters, who may be opting to stay at home and be couch potatoes instead. But city management have said they are worried about liability risk to the City, if they don’t bar skaters from playing shinny without a helmet.
City staff say they’re unsure about the actual number of claims against the city as a result of rink injuries. So CELOS applied to the City’s Corporate Access and Privacy office (freedom of information) to track down that number. The response was very reassuring. The City’s Risk Management Section has records of only two ice-rink injury claims, and neither of them happened during shinny hockey. Both injuries were during a full-equipment, full-contact hockey game in arenas. One player got a broken leg as the result of a body-check in 2004, the other got an on-ice beating during an MTHL game in 1999, resulting in a broken nose. The broken leg claim seems not to have been settled yet, The on-ice beating victim asked for $1.1 million but settled for $12,000 (grounds for the lawsuit was that the referees didn’t intervene until very late).
In CELOS’ search for ice rink injury hospital data, two more relevant things turned up:
(1) after mandatory helmets were introduced for full-contact hockey programs, head injuries went down for some years. Then, in the past half dozen years, head injury rates began to climb steadily again, despite the helmets, and spinal cord injuries have also increased. Body-checking seems to be the main occasion when serious harm is done. Sports medicine doctors conjecture that as hockey players add more body armour, they feel more invincible.
(2) Canadian hospitals injury data show a lot of “falls-on-ice” injuries. But it turns out that most of the falls are not on rinks, they’re on sidewalk ice. Winter is a slippery time! (For more details about sports injuries and hospital data, go to the media link on the cityrinks.ca website.)
Shinny hockey is a different game than full-equipment, full-contact hockey. In shinny hockey there is no checking, and no slapshots. It appears that there have never been any shinny hockey injury claims against the City. If mandatory helmet rules are causing many youths to stop playing drop-in shinny hockey at the rinks, the harm done to physical fitness may be greater than the good in protecting against the risk of concussions. CELOS will continue to urge City management and Councillors to attend to this problem.