NHL DEALS WITH CONCUSSIONS…WHAT ABOUT THE PLAYERS?
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.
I THINK IT’S TIME FOR PLAYERS TO TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY! WHY WAIT FOR THE LEAGUE TO LEGISLATE SOMETHING THAT IS SO IMPORTANT AND VITAL TO THEM?
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.
COME ON GUYS! ! LET’S PLAY HARD BUT PLAY FAIR!
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.
HAVE A GREAT HOCKEY DAY!
Phil Myre (www.philmyretalkshockey.com)