It is sad when gratuitous violence in hockey has become so frequent and normalized that it is no longer especially newsworthy. Columnists like Roy MacGregor of The Globe and Mail for example pen excellent articles entitled, ‘Enough talk about hockey violence – time for action’ but such pleas get drowned out by background noise and fall on deaf ears.
Since January 1, a 17 year old hockey player has been charged with aggravated assault in Edmonton after he speared an opponent with his stick after a stoppage in play, and two major junior hockey players (Marco Scandella and Patrice Cormier) have been suspended for the remainder of the season in separate incidents involving headshots.
Cormier’s hit to an unsuspecting Mikael Tam resulted in Tam becoming unconscious and convulsing on the ice. It can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgwCaxEB6-Y&feature=related
Politicians wring their hands of it. Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, himself a former hockey player at Princeton University, properly figures the National Hockey League should lead by example. Opposition Liberal MP Ken Dryden, a Hall of Fame NHL goalie and a lawyer like Mr. Flaherty, suggests leagues should impose a strict liability standard on headshots leaving it to the offending player to disprove the intent to injure and that lawsuits could spur future changes. Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Dryden dissociate the government and their parties from their views noting that they were speaking as individuals and nothing more.
Not to be outdone, New Democratic Party MP Glenn Thibeault wants a royal commission on violence in sports.
Meanwhile, the best hockey’s governing body can do is to have a summit meeting to talk about it some more. Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson is saying all the right things to encourage minor hockey to get its house in order otherwise unspecified measures may be implemented to regain control of the game.
None of this is new. Hockey is a violent game but the violence is getting out of control. Hockey players have been killed. Too many are getting hurt. Eight of the ten longest suspensions levied by the NHL have been in the 21st century. Players have been criminally convicted of assault. Civil lawsuits are not out of the ordinary.
It is time that gratuitous violence in hockey not be considered normal and that professional and amateur leagues stop talking and start doing something serious about it.