Stripes: It’s only been a few months, but what has been the initial reaction?
Paluch: One of the initial reactions took the focus away from the players and concentrated more on the unsportsmanlike penalties for banging sticks on the boards. Obviously, the focus should be on player safety and doing what’s right for the young athletes. Now, once that initial reaction was sorted out and that rule was clarified, we got ourselves back on track to promote the right type of body contact to create a great game and a safer game.
Stripes: How has the impact been felt on the officiating side?
Paluch: For us, we’re watching the game to see how the player behavior is. I’ve also got a sense early on that I’ve been ecstatic with how well the referees have adapted to this. I’ve seen the calls in terms of the focus – with the stick being down on the ice, no contact with a defenseless player, no contact with a player who is already engaged – the referees have been really committed to making those calls early on. I’ve been really impressed with how they’ve handled it.
Stripes: As the culture shifts and everyone seems to adapt, what constitutes success with the Declaration?
Paluch: In my mind, we just need to continue to keep working towards a product that keeps our young athletes safe and creates a better hockey game. As time goes on, we’re going to see that. It’s a work in progress with everybody. As I mentioned before, this isn’t just coaches and players. It’s coaches, players, referees and USA Hockey who are tasked with getting the message out.
A lot of what has come out of the Declaration is basically a reinforcement of how the rulebook is written. What happened over time was, there became a more cultural understanding of the rulebook rather than adhering to what was actually written in the rulebook. For example, I think interference is always interference, but I think it was slowly allowed a level of contact away from the puck over time. Even holding to that point.
There are thing that have somehow crept into the game over time, but now I think the Declaration is bringing it back to how the rulebook was written in regard to what the game should look like and player safety within the rulebook.
Stripes: What is the full history to working towards the Declaration and working towards June to when it was released?
Paluch: For us on the development side, this part of the game is always in our eyes and always in our conversation. For us, the timeframe for the Mayo Clinic and American Association of Pediatrics, when they released their statements, it put a responsibility on hockey leadership to take a look at where things were. It’s important to note that this kind of conversation is ongoing with our body on the development side (American Development Model). We’re always looking at our game in ways to improve the education of our game, the teaching of our game and ultimately making sure we are creating a safe environment for our young athletes.