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Hockey Canada introduces new junior-level rules in western pilot project

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Hockey Canada is trying out a series of changes in the western provinces in an attempt to streamline the development of junior players.

The new rules are part of the Western Canadian Development Model pilot project for the 2024-25 season that the national sport organization announced on Thursday. It was created following an extensive proposal submitted to Hockey Canada by its four western members, their respective junior A leagues and the major junior Western Hockey League.

"The unity between Hockey Canada and the 10 organizations that led the development of the pilot project has never been stronger, and we are grateful for the tremendous work by the members and leagues that led to today's announcement," said Pat McLaughlin, chief operating officer and executive vice-president of strategy for Hockey Canada. "We all must continue to evolve to meet the needs of Canadians looking to participate in our national winter sport in a system that operates with an athlete-centred approach and ensures their development and safety on and off the ice is at the forefront of everything we do."

That includes mandating that junior A players under the age of 18 must continue to wear full-face protection, in line with the International Ice Hockey Federation. Players over 18 may now choose to wear half-face protection.

The pilot project also allows WHL teams to have up to nine 15-year-old players play up to 10 games in a season. That is up from the former limit of five affiliate players on the roster for only five games.

WHL clubs can also now dress two 15-year-old affiliate players if the team is unable to field a full lineup otherwise. That is an increase from the previous limit of one.

All participating western Canadian junior A leagues will adopt the WHL Rule Book, except for a handful of sections.

The pilot project will be reviewed on an ongoing basis during the 2024-25 season, and it is anticipated that its scope will expand in future seasons.

"By increasing flexibility for junior hockey players and families in Western Canada, we anticipate that we will see higher quality competition on the ice, all the way up to the national team level when Canada is competing internationally in the years to come," said McLaughlin.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2024.

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