Tag Archives: head shots

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

May 30, 2011

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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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Ripple Effects of Chara’s hit on Pacioretty in the NHL

March 16, 2011

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The ripples from Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara’s hit on Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty last week have begun lapping on the shores of sponsors and big business (click here for a video of the hit).

Chara checked Pacioretty driving his head into a steel (and padded) stanchion resulting in Pacioretty sustaining a non-displaced C4 fracture and a severe concussion. Chara was given a five minute major penalty and game misconduct for interference. The National Hockey League imposed no supplemental discipline finding that Chara did not deliberately target Pacioretty’s head. It was a tragic ‘hockey play’ that resulted in a player breaking his neck. In other words, it was an accident. Chara apologized and said he didn’t hurt Pacioretty intentionally.

The incident has sparked considerable debate. Columnists have called Chara’s conduct as acting with reckless disregard (don’t you love it when reporters write in legalese?) and that he knew exactly what he was doing driving Pacioretty’s head into the post.

Technically, Chara did not break Rule 48 which prohibits lateral or blindside hits to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact. The problem is that the head must be targeted; the contact must be intentional. In a fast and furious sport like hockey, it is very difficult to prove in the balance of probabilities that there was intent.

If the league is serious about hits to the head and brain injuries they will have to adopt a strict liability approach similar to their existing rules about high-sticking (Rule 60) or delay of game when a player inadvertently shoots the puck over the boards while in their own end (Rule 63).

In spite of Sydney Crosby – the world’s best player – getting concussed by a hit more than two months ago which somehow went unpenalized when he was away from the puck and looking in the other direction from his assailant (Crosby hasn’t played a game since) and now Chara breaking Pacioretty’s neck, the NHL seems in no hurry to fix the problem.

Corporate Canada appears not to agree.

Air Canada sent NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman a letter which expressed concern over the incident and noted that, ‘From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it is becoming increasingly difficult to associate our brand with sports events which could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents; action must be taken by the NHL before we are encountered with a fatality. Unless the NHL takes immediate action with serious suspensions to the players in question to curtail these threatening injuries, Air Canada will withdraw its sponsorship of hockey.’

This reminds me of a couple of the basic rules of business:

1st Rule of Business – money talks

2nd Rule of Business – league commissioners and team owners listen to money talking

So, in their way of thinking, if a bunch of whiners are upset with fighting and hitting in hockey but fans continue to go to games, the league will do nothing but hear the sound of turnstiles clicking into arenas and count their money.

But this is different. The carrier is one of Canada’s biggest brands and supporters of NHL hockey in the country. The criticism represents an assault on the league’s credibility and approach to violence.

Bettman is putting a brave face on the situation and even threatening retaliation saying that ‘It is the prerogative of our clubs that fly on air Canada to make other arrangements if they don’t think Air Canada is giving them the appropriate level of service.’

I don’t think he understands the gravity of the situation.

If the National Hockey League wishes to be taken seriously as a professional league then it will have to listen to the concerns of Corporate Canada. Bettman ignores the criticism at the league’s peril.

All of this represents a new front to the fight on hockey violence and even cracks to the foundation of sponsorship support to the league.  Hold on to your hats – this promises to get very interesting!

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Hockey violence is getting out of control

March 8, 2011

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You know hockey violence is getting out of control when noted commentator and former National Hockey League pugilist Mike Milbury – who once infamously warned against the ‘pansification’ of hockey – says a player should be banned from the league.

Milbury is calling for New York Islander Trevor Gillis to be kicked out of the NHL. Gillis served a nine game suspension for charging and concussing Pittsburgh Penguins forward Eric Tangradi with a high elbow to the head before landing several punches in a one-sided fight. Four shifts into his first game back from the suspension, Gillis head-hunted Minnesota Wild player Cal Clutterbuck with a hit from behind. NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell described Gillies’s hit as a deliberate attempt to injure by delivering a blow to the head of an unsuspecting player who was unable to defend himself. Then he gave Gillis a feeble 10 game suspension.

On a related note, the Edmonton Journal just published an article I wrote entitled, ‘Violence on the ice is getting out of control’ about a Canadian university hockey player being attacked by a ‘repeat offender’ who had already been suspended in two different leagues for injuring opposing players. Here are a few excerpts:

… …

Hockey got yet another black eye last week when University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey player Eric Hunter was attacked by University of British Columbia Thunderbird Mike Liambas …. In an incident eerily similar to Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi’s assault on Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche, Hunter suffered facial cuts and a concussion after being punched in the head from the side and behind and then driven into the ice by Liambas.

… …

Hockey is a violent game but the violence is getting out of control. Too many players are getting hurt. Players – including Bertuzzi have been convicted of assault. Civil lawsuits – including Steve Moore’s ongoing $38-million suit against Bertuzzi and the Canucks – are no longer out of the ordinary.

It is time gratuitous violence in hockey was no longer considered normal and that teams did more to self-regulate and leagues did more than impose slap-on-the-wrist penalties.

Hunter is a young man studying business at the U of A who accepted the risks ordinarily inherent to playing hockey, such as being tripped, cross-checked and fighting. He would not, however, have consented to enduring a blindside hit and being driven into the ice.

Canadian university hockey should not suffer if the league doesn’t have the moral courage to do the right thing. Universities should send a message that thuggery will never be tolerated by kicking players off their teams if and when it occurs …  Liambas should be prohibited from playing in the league.

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