Phil Myre Colorado Rockies



Wayne Gretzky said it best in an interview last week-end at his Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas. “Kids playing games in a park will get hurt.  Profesional athletes playing a high speed, physical game will get hurt too”. It’s inevitable.  

Hockey is a physical sport and it’s impossible to eliminate injuries. However, the National Hockey League is faced with an alarming increase in concussions. The players today are bigger and faster, yet, the playing surface has remained the same, reducing the space for them to maneuver and increasing the chances of injuries. 

Unofficially, I counted 21 concussion injuries currently in the NHL. That includes stars such as Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins, Marc Savard, Boston Bruins and more recently, Dan Hamhuis from the Vancouver Canucks. Players like Peter Mueller (Phoenix), Matthew Lombardi (Nashville), David Perron (St-Louis) and others have missed most of the season with concussions. 

Undoubtedly, medical advancement has made it easier to diagnose concussions, creating more cases. Only a few years ago, I’m sure that many of us played with concussions that were never diagnosed. I may have had a mild concussion when playing for the Colorado Rockies in 1981. A shot hit me square in the forehead, cutting me for ten stiches through my face mask. I lost consciousness for a few moments and  I didn’t feel well for several weeks following the incident. I never missed a single practice. Feeling tired or “whoozzy” and having an  occasional  headache was just attributed to the heavy schedule or just being tired. 

The NHL has made a colossal effort and has been pro-active in dealing with the increase of concussion injuries and the hits that cause them. They have dealt with “blind side hits”, “hits from behind” and “hits to the head”. They changed or added rules and increased suspensions and fines. They are investigating the equipment that players wear to reduce their rigidity that may cause injuries. 

There are some things that the NHL CANNOT DO! They can’t restrict the size of the players and they can’t tell the players to skate slower. They CANNOT remove the body checking and the physical part of hockey. Making the ice surface bigger is improbable if not impossible. 


The players’ responsibility exists on both sides of the hit: the hitter and the player getting hit. The onus can’t always be on the player doing the hitting. Many players put themselves in vulnarable situations to get hit that can be avoided. Why do so many players cut to the middle of the ice while carrying the puck at the offensive blue line? That’s the most vulnerable area for a dangerous hit. There are very few players who have the skills and the vision to execute that play successfully. 
Players can also control the number of hits from behind. It’s clear that a player can’t hit an opponent who is not facing him or without the puck. And there has been signs of players easing up on those situations. But what about players who put themselves in a vulnerable position to get hit from behind? I know that it’s a fine line but more and more players turn and face the boards when they have control of the puck. It has become a “safe haven” for some players who know they can’t get hit in that situation. Sometimes, the momentum of players skating in for a hit doesn’t allow for a quick change of direction to prevent the hit. This is different from scrums when several players fight for the puck and all of them are stationary. 

The last element that is becoming more evident is the lack of respect that players are showing for each other. There seems to be so many unnecessary hits, charging type hits, “cheap shots”, players leaving their feet to deliver a hit, slew footing, careless use of the stick, dangerous elbows to the head etc. 


NHL executives have faced the issues pro-actively. No, it’s not perfect but the process is ongoing. They are doing the best that they can to protect their athletes from each other. But let’s not leave the whole burden of solving the concussion issue on the league alone. Players must also be held responsible and accountable. 

Phil Myre (www.philmyretalkshockey.com) 

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  1. patrick
    July 4, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    I wonder if the instigator rule, and the helmets and eyeshields have much to do with it. I think they do personally.

    When players played without helmets you didn’t pull some of the BS that goes on because you knew you could injure someone. Let’s be honest, you also knew that the next time you played that team you would recieve the same treatment.

    The lack of the instigator rule had a lot do do with it to, I think. I for one may have thought twice about pulling the cheap crap that goes on today if I knew I would be facing Dave Schultz, Steve Durbano, Clark Gillies, or Bob Gassoff my next shift. Bring back the repect that seems to be lacking now.

  2. Anthony
    February 20, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Myre writes: “Undoubtedly, medical advancement has made it easier to diagnose concussions, creating more cases. Only a few years ago, I’m sure that many of us played with concussions that were never diagnosed.”

    This is false. A concussion has always been an easy thing, medically speaking, to diagnose, particularly when the cause–in this case, a hard hit in a hockey game–is so obvious. The problem with the NHL, and other pro sports, is that trainers and coaches have, in the past, been encouraged not to diagnose concussions. The fact that the incidence of serious head injuries appears to be on the rise is not a result of medical advancements, but of trainers being compelled to be more cautious–and honest–in their treatment of injuries.

    Sports medicine, when practised in the cut and thrust of a fast-paced game like hockey, is a contradiction in terms: the object is not to heal the patient–i.e., the player–but to get him back out onto the ice as quickly as possible. Diagnosing too many concussions takes players out of the game, which is not conducive to the marketing mission of leagues like the NHL and the NFL–the leagues with the most pressing concussion problems.

    One thought, though, on how to cut down on serious head injuries in hockey: make the protective equipment–shoulder pads, shin pads, gloves etc.–less, shall we say, protective. It sounds counterintuitive, but a player who feels invulnerable on the ice is a player willing to take more risks. If a player were more exposed, and less able to hide behind bulky padding, he would naturally avoid the kind of injury-inducing body checks that practically define the game today, because he would be at risk of injuring himself as well.

    • Phil Myre
      February 22, 2011 at 4:33 pm

      Your comments are very much appreciated. I agree with your statement on the trainers. They are much more informed and educated today then they were 25or 30 years ago when I played.
      I also agree on the equipment. Some of them, as I stated in the blog, are like weapons and they also make the players feel invincible. I see young kids playing hockey now who are willing to dive head first in front of a puck at times because they feel invincible with the full shield…Making the equipment smaller is a good point but a hard sell to those concerned. There has to be a way to make the equipment smaller and retain the necessary protection.
      Again thank you for your very enlightning comments.

  3. David Strehle
    February 16, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Excellent post, Mr. Myre, and I totally agree that the players need to police themselves more closely on this issue. It seems that there is just a more-general lack of respect for each other among the players today.

    There has been research for years in developing helmets that could help reduce the impact of a hit on player’s heads – I remember Eric Lindros working with an equipment producer when he was having his concussion problems back in the 90’s – but with the armored body gear that shields player’s bodies, I cannot imagine a helmet that could protect against some of the vicious contact being made. The armored-shell shoulder pads are being used as weapons and often make contact with the heads of players that are either shorter than the player that is hitting them, or are prone and in a bad position as they bend over to reach for the puck. Their heads are put into prime striking zones for these shoulder pads to come in contact with at those times.

    The league has a huge headache (sorry for the bad pun) on its hands with this topic, and they have failed to make steps in helping to cut down on the amount of concussions being suffered by the players. Stiffer suspensions and fines may help if the player who is doling out the hit – and it may make the player think twice when he’s got someone lined up and in a prone position.

    Until the players, themselves, take responsibility and are truly held accountable for their actions, it doesn’t appear that the changes will come quick enough to prevent injury to current player’s heads.

    • Phil Myre
      February 16, 2011 at 11:48 am

      Dear David, Thank you very much for your great comments. Totally agree. Phil

  4. al
    February 15, 2011 at 7:09 pm



  5. PR Williams
    February 15, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Hi Phil

    Like the article. I would like to hear your take on the Isles/Pens punchup. Those were way more common back in your day, but I guess I am really curious to hear your thoughts on Matt Martins blind side attack of Talbot.

    Personally, I thought that was eerily close to the Bertuzzi attack and yet he only got 4 games for it?! The only difference was that Talbot was able to turtle before he got his neck broken. What do you think?

    • Phil Myre
      February 16, 2011 at 11:56 am

      Thank you for your comments. I agree with you on the Martin hit. It was a vicious hit and the league dealt with it quickly and well. I don’t intend to comment in my blog. There has been a lot said already and additional comments from me would be redundant. Players need to show more respect for each other. Regards, Phil

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