This year features a crackdown on illegal hitting. Many of the rule changes strengthened the minimal penalty time for those offenders who target the head or the back. Penalties such as boarding, charging, and head contact now carry minimum penalties of 2 minutes plus a 10 minute misconduct. This is up from just a 2 minute minor penalty for each offense.
Just as the NHL has cracked down on repeat offenders such as Patrick Kaleta, USA Hockey has introduced their own legislation which will take players off the ice for extended periods of time in an effort to change the player's ways. Some of these rules include changing a second 10 minute misconduct into an automatic game misconduct which can also carry a 1 game suspension in some leagues. The Progressive Suspension clause will deal with repeat offenders and assessing longer suspensions.
These efforts by USA Hockey, in addition to the continuation of the Mite hockey cross-ice program, are all to promote the skill development of young players. By not allowing players, especially those physically developed players, to hit has allowed smaller players to still fit in on the ice. This may allow future players to be like Danny Briere or Nathan Gerbe and overcome their size and experience success at a high level.
As always, the views on the new rules will be split. While I personally don't agree with them, the focus of USA Hockey is on player safety and with the abundance of concussions in the game today, perhaps delaying hitting and punishing those who break the rules significantly will help that number go down significantly.