Before I get into this wonderful blog here, I want to touch on a few things that have been happening around the sports world over the last week or so...
- -Classy move by the Yanks this week, visiting a community and a school that was torn to bits last year by another act of brutal violence. It's easy to hate the Yankee's being a Jays and Sox fan, but this was one thing they should definitely be applauded for. Will their visit bring back lost loved ones or heal the pain caused by the events of April 17th, 2007? Most definitely not, but being able to mingle with stars like Jeter and A-Rod, play against them, and most importantly feel like a college kid again is cause enough for applause.
- -Chris Pronger received his eighth suspension this week, after stomping on Ryan Kesler's calf with an exposed skate blade. The suspension length? 8 games - Now I'm not going to go off on a rant about this joke of a suspension the NHL has handed out, because I'd basically be echoing the same sentiments as talking heads around the sports world. What I will say though, is that Chris Simon should just keep his mouth shut about the whole situation. This guy should feel lucky he's even still in the league, but yet he feels that justice hasn't been served - Boo friggen' Hoo
Now onto the meat and potatoes of the delicious meal known as "Sports Thoughts from the Great White North"
I'd like to begin by touching on a very scary moment that occurred last Sunday in a game between Minnesota and Minnesota State in the Men's Hockey division of the NCAA. Minnesota forward Tommy Pohl (brother of Leafs forward John) was battling along the boards for the puck when he was upended by Minnesota State's Jason Wiley. Wiley also got his elbow up, and connected with Tom's head as he fell towards the ice. Tom's helmet also flew off, leaving his head un-protected as it crashed into the boards - fracturing his skull, and causing bleeding into the brain. He is in now stable condition, and doctors are still monitoring his progress - there is no prognosis yet - but being a 4th liner before the injury, it would be a safe assumption the young man won't be playing hockey again.
This is significant as it brings to light something I've noticed over the last little while; that it's not necessarily sticks, skates, or fists that are causing a lot of injuries in Hockey these days, yet it is the careless use of the boards that are causing a lot of NHL'ers headaches(literally).
No longer are they used predominately to contain the game, yet they are being used more now as a weapon, and a tool to enforce ones physicality on another. Are players going out looking to injure another player using the boards? Probably not, but are they going out looking to use the boards more-so than an open-ice hit? Absolutely.
I know the boards are part of the arena, so thus there is nothing I can do about it. They will also not be taking the boards out of the game for any reason, so how do we make sure the players are safe and not being subjected to unnecessary punishment ? Well there seems to be a few avenues to look at this problem...
First, which the NHL has already addressed, is fix the glass itself. In the early 90's, the NHL began a transition towards seamless glass - which is exactly how it sounds - because without the breaks in the glass, it gave fans and media alike a better view/shot of the ice. Unfortunately, elimination of said ‘seams' also made for a very unforgiving glass, eventually resulting in an increase in concussions, and other head and shoulder injuries in the league. After almost a decade of living with the problem, the NHL in 1999 decided to install new ‘seamed' glass or CheckFlex glass in several new arenas across the league. (I couldn't find any updated records of which arenas have the CheckFlex glass, but as far as I know every building now has that system) I won't get into too many specifics, but this CheckFlex glass provides 3 more inches of impact resistance at 42 inches off the ice.
Player education about the matter is also necessary, and I can sit here and write until my hands fall off about how the players need to stop hitting from behind, that they need to be taught this in Junior etc. etc. But the fact remains that they do get taught this and at a very young age; yet on the long road from Junior to NHL, the messages about safety become quieter, while the messages about winning become louder (ex. Find me one prominent OHL player who didn't complain about wearing mandatory neck guard) What it boils down to is that the respect for one's opponents safety is lost on a lot of today's players, a far cry from the non-helmet days of yester-year.
I don't know how you raise awareness past the point of what it's already at. We are subjected to so much useless violence in this sport everyday that the discussion boards are constantly filled with topics such as "Chris Simon should be banned" and "Chris Pronger deserved a longer suspension" And even with this being the case, and public awareness about head-shots at its peak...players still aren't getting the message. Instead of looking to lay a clean, open-ice check on someone, players will look to ram them as hard as they can into the boards instead. So be it if they went head-first, the excuse you'll hear is "Well they shouldn't have turned, then it would have be clean"
The NHL had a great way to police this messy board business; it was called the "Boarding" penalty. These days it should be known as "hitting from behind" penalty, because that's what in essence it is called for. In all actuality, the penalty for boarding reads like this: "Boarding: Any player who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently into the boards (2 minutes, 5 or a game misconduct)."
Sorry? Did I miss something? Quick, how many times have you seen someone get violently thrown into the boards when vulnerable? Ryan Smyth comes to mind last week when he was driven into the partition the separates the bench from the glass - leading to him being taken from the ice on a stretcher.
Now I'm not going to sit here and say accidents don't happen, and that a tame check into the boards can't hurt a player as well - It's just we don't see the latter too often. It all falls into the systemic epidemic this league has, and that's violence. The NFL doesn't put up with crap like that, nor does the MLB, and the NBA sure didn't when it had its Malice at the Palace incident.
If you're not going to enforce rules you have, or apply them to everyone, then you won't breed respect in your game. And that's exactly what's happening with the NHL. They are choosing to manage the senseless violence, instead of eliminating it.
And if the keep it up, they may have a incident similar to what happened to young Tom Pohl on Sunday - or worse.