Hockey is a physical sport without a doubt. Physicalness has been a part of the game since its inception. There is nothing like a hard open ice hit to get the crowd going or to rile up the benches. We’ve all seen hits: open ice hits, knee on knee hits, shoulder to shoulder hits, hits in the corner… We’ve all seen rock ‘em sock ‘em-esque fights. We’ve all cheered them on, booed them, gasped, cried, screamed expletives at the TV. We’ve seen players bounce right up, or stay down for a 10 count, injured knees, concussions and the like. But we have recently seen what these hits have done to the players, the tolls they take both mentally and physically.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a big, well placed hit like anyone else. I’ve also been known to cheer on a fight or two. But I’m not a fan of players getting hurt. It’s never a good thing to see a player fall into a pile of pads and jersey onto the ice and not move. You watch in anticipation as the medical staff rush over to the downed player, and are relieved when the player gets up. Whether it’s a knee to knee collision or a shoulder/elbow to head hit, clean or dirty, hitting is part of the game. But sometimes, even when they do get up, the injury is not what it may seem.
In the past couple seasons, the NHL has seen a rash increase in the number of concussions. You might think it is due in part to an increase in player size. Looking at the average height and weight of some teams, the NY Rangers come in at an average height of 6’1” and an average weight of 204lbs, the Boston Bruins come in at an average height of 6’ and an average weight of 202lbs, and the Dallas Stars come in at an average height of 6’ and an average weight of 201lbs. Sure, there are guys like Brian Boyle and Zdeno Chara who stand 6’7 and 6’9” respectively, but overall there is a close range of overall heights and weights. So is that really the cause? Probably not. Unless you line up Chara with Zucarello where there is a significant height difference.
Elbow meet head.
We’ve seen a mixture of ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ hits over the past few years as well. More recently, we’ve seen an exorbitant amount hearings and suspensions. And even more scary, we’ve seen an increase in concussions. Per the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/sports/hockey/30nhl.html), the NHL averages 75-77 concussions per year in the most recent seasons. We’ve seen guys like Chara shove Pacioretty into the stanchion away from the puck, putting Pacioretty in grave danger. We’ve seen Sidney Crosby get leveled and sitting out for what seemed like an eternity. We’ve witnessed one Staal take out another Staal. Were these avoidable concussions?
This past off season, the hockey world lost three great players in Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak. All were ‘enforcers’. Each of them have suffered blows to the head, many of which were during fights. Not from a clean hit that sent them headfirst into the boards, not from an elbow to the head… But a head injury is a head injury is a head injury. It was shown only post mortem, that Derek Boogaard suffered from CTE. CTE stems from concussions and sub-concussion injuries that occur repeatedly. CTE is characterized by disorientation, confusion, lethargy, headaches, lack of insight, staggered gait, tremors, vertigo, poor judgment, etc… which alarmingly sound like the symptoms one would expect after a concussion or a serious blow to the head. Hits to the head don’t differentiate themselves from a fight, or from a hit to the boards. A hit to the head is a hit to the head. What is even worse, is that CTE can only be diagnosed post mortem via a brain autopsy. So all of the signs and symptoms that may indicate CTE may go undiagnosed or unnoticed.
What can the NHL do? Fine the hitter post-hit once a hitee has a confirmed concussion? Invoke the personal space rule? Pad the boards? Sumo suits for everyone?
Currently under rule 48.6, if a player incurs a total of 2 game misconducts for an illegal hit to the head, that is an automatic suspension. Each additional game misconduct should result in an additional game suspension. The league can also subject the player to a fine, if deemed appropriate. A similar disciplinary action applies to rule 41 (boarding) and rule 43 (checking from behind). Rule 41 and rule 48 were both ‘tweaked’ in September 2011. This was in hopes of avoiding these hits and reducing the number of concussions suffered. Is hitting the players in the pocket book going to rid the NHL of the concussions and injuries?
There needs to be some common ground in between turning the game of hockey into figure skating and allowing the game to become a three-ring circus. Is it something that the NHL can enforce, or is it something that the players themselves should look to correct. Maybe think before completing a hit? Being aware of what your surroundings are before laying a hit? Avoid throwing blows to the head during a fight and opting for a kidney shot? As much as the NHL has done to change the rules in hopes for a lessened occurrence of concussions, the responsibility may now lay with the players. You could make the argument that the game happens at such a fast pace and they may not be able to make such a snap-quick decision. But I’ll offer this…
We’ve all driven a car where at one point or another we had to make a decision fairly quickly with adrenaline pumping. You think to yourself “swerve left and you avoid the other car, swerve right and you hit the car”. You swerve left. This all happens in nanoseconds.
How is this reaction any different on the ice?
Filed Under: Rangers
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.