July 29, 2014

Mass Hockey votes to fund Look-Up Line implementation

By Brion O’Connor

The 40-inch orange Look-Up Line at the Pingree School in South Hamilton, Mass., might soon be installed at dozens of Bay State rinks.

June was a month of highs and lows for Look-Up Line innovator Thomas E. Smith. The Swampscott, Mass., native and former Pingree School star had high hopes for his groundbreaking bright orange “warning track” for hockey rinks when the concept was brought up for a vote before the NCAA and USA Hockey.

“We’re going to aim for a strong recommendation for the first year or two,” said Smith before the early June meetings of both organizations. “Anything below that, whether this gets tabled or voted down, is a loss.”

However, the NCAA and USA Hockey declined to provide a “strong recommendation.” Instead, both groups voted simply to grant permission to any rink that hosts NCAA or USA Hockey games and/or programs to install the line, which is designed to warn players that they’re approaching the boards, where many of the game’s most serious injuries occur.

USA Hockey’s David Fischer said that although the organization considers player safety “our number one priority,” there wasn’t enough evidence to determine the effectiveness of the Look-Up Line. So, while USA Hockey’s directors voted to give permission to install the line, “that’s not intended as an endorsement of the Look-Up Line, or a vote of support of any kind.”

Those votes essentially mean that rinks, whether public or private, can install the line without going to USA Hockey or the NCAA beforehand for approval. Because USA Hockey doesn’t actually own the rinks, or have jurisdiction over those facilities, Fischer said the group couldn’t mandate the Look-Up Line. However, he said USA Hockey hopes to collect data from those rinks that do install the line.

Still, Smith put a positive spin on the votes, saying that getting permission from both national bodies “in writing” was a victory of sorts and paved the way for him to champion his cause with individual rink owners.

If the national votes by the NCAA and USA Hockey stung Smith, Massachusetts Hockey provided a quick salve. The Mass Hockey board of directors, which has unanimously supported the Look-Up Line initiative, made good on that vote during their mid-June meetings. The board approved a $50,000 fund to reimburse up to 100 rinks — at $500 each — for the cost of paint and shipping.

Kevin Kavanagh, executive director for Mass Hockey, said the vote reflects a belief that the concept is both sound and worth pursuing without delay.

“Several members of the Massachusetts Hockey executive board have been talking with Tom for months now, and basically they feel very strongly that this is a great opportunity to improve safety measures in the game of hockey,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s one of the most important things we do. We want to provide our players and families with as safe an environment as possible.”

Additionally, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has earmarked funds to have the Look-Up Line installed in nine state-operated rinks. There are another 32 rinks that the DCR owns but are operated by private firms, and those companies are being encouraged to put down the line. Meanwhile, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone has ordered the Look-Up Line installed in the city’s two rinks, said Smith.

The Look-Up Line also was recently installed at Phillips Andover Academy prep school. Smith expects more rinks to come on board shortly, especially given the incentive of Mass Hockey’s reimbursement program. At the collegiate level, this past spring, Atlantic Hockey Commissioner Robert DeGregorio (Winthrop, Mass.) encouraged the league’s athletic directors to consider installing the Look-Up Line.

This article originally appeared in the July edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to read the digital edition for free.

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