Rule changes to head shots in hockey and a new spin on concussions

May 30, 2011


Perhaps the elation and euphoria of the Vancouver Canucks (in my adopted province of British Columbia) playing for the Stanley Cup and the rumour that the Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL will soon be sold and moved to my home city of Winnipeg after losing the Jets for Phoenix in 1996 has adversely affected my attention span and productivity for posting missives to the Canary.

But I digress …

Hockey Canada’s call for zero tolerance on head shots has been answered. The national governing body for hockey in Canada unanimously approved rule changes two days ago at its annual general meeting that will make any contact with a player’s head illegal (read story here). The amendments include:

  • A two-minute penalty in minor and female hockey for any player “who accidently contacts an opponent in the head, face or neck with their stick or any part of the player’s body or equipment.” A double minor will be assessed for contacting a player in the head intentionally.
  • In junior and senior hockey, a minor and a misconduct, or a major and a game misconduct, “at the discretion of the referee based on the degree of violence of impact, will be assessed to any player who checks an opponent to the head area in any manner. A major and a game misconduct penalty shall be assessed any player who injures an opponent under this rule.”
  • A match penalty will be “assessed to any player who deliberately attempts to injure or deliberately injures an opponent.”
  • The rule changes for junior and senior hockey will be held a year while the Junior Pilot Project gathers more data on blows to the head and dangerous hits.

It’s about time.

However, a recent article on the number of hockey players playing hurt perhaps puts a new spin on concussions. The New York Times (read article here) reported on the number of San Jose Sharks playing with injuries and the list is impressive, inspiring and depressing. They include Joe Thornton, the team’s captain and best player, who played with a badly separated shoulder in the last game; Dan Boyle, their top defenseman, played since mid-March with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee; Ryane Clowe had his shoulder separated earlier in the playoffs and missed only one game despite being unable to tie his skates; Dany Heatley played with a hand which had been broken during the season; Logan Couture played with a broken nose; and the list goes on.

Given the extent to which athletes (presumably) consent to play through pain and injury, it may put into perspective the current conversation on concussions in professional hockey.

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