Thursday, 20 March 2008

More Protection For Players

After watching the highlights of the March 19, 2008 game between the San Jose Sharks and Minnesota Wild, there has to be someone in the NHL Head Offices who has common sense. As pictured, Kurtis Foster of the Wild, to the left, hit the end the boards on an icing call after taking a check from Torrey Mitchell of the Sharks. The problem is that Kurtis Foster's season is over after breaking his femur when he hit the boards. The promising, young defenceman had a stabilizing rod put into his leg to help it heal. In hearing this, why hasn't the NHL gone to no-touch icing like international hockey?

This isn't the first time this has happened. Pat Peake, a member of the Washington Capitals, has his career come to an end when he slammed into the boards chasing a puck that had been iced during Game Five of the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs against Pittsburgh.

"It was J.J. Daigneault," Peake said to Mike Vogel of "He had a step on me. I still say [Capitals' head coach Jim] Schoenfeld had me brainwashed, because I never would have raced for an icing before. But I raced for an icing, there was a loose puck. A lot of it was my fault; I put the stick on him and kind of water-skied. I did win the race, but that was it. It was the end of my career.

“I can remember everything as clear as day. Kerry Fraser was the ref. He came up to me and said, ‘Hey Peaker, are you okay?’ [Caps trainer] Stan Wong came right out and I said, ‘I think I’m gonna be sick.’ Thank God that Pittsburgh’s locker room was at that end. When they carried me off they gave me a shot of medicine real quick. They cut all my equipment off. It was the playoffs, so we brought all our doctors with us. They went with me to the hospital, I had some x-rays, they put a cast on it and told me [my heel] was broken in quite a few places. It turned out it was broken in 12 places."

Peake was 24 years-old when the injury happened. He's now 33 years-old, and still misses the game that had taken him so far in life.

"There are certain times of year," he told Vogel, "like playoff time, where you kind of get the itch. I remember what it was like to go to the finals and I was around all that atmosphere. It was wild. Yeah, I do get a little bit grumpy every now and then. But I am a big hockey fan. I love the game. I still watch it all the time."

Don Cherry has spoken out for a long time about the NHL not having no-touch icing, and it happened again in late January in a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals.

You don't need to watch the whole thing, but it is entertaining.

He was also on The Fan 590, a sports-talk radio station out of Toronto, talking about the Kurtis Foster incident and the need for the NHL to adopt no-touch icings. You can hear it here.

There have been lots of players injured while trying to get to an iced puck: Foster, Ponikarovsky, Peake, Marty Reasoner, Marco Sturm, Mark Tinordi, and Brad Bombardir, for example. And for what reason? So their teammates can go back down the ice 180 feet away from where someone had his leg broken, his heel shattered, or his head concussed?

I've written about making visors mandatory, and about how neck guards would help. Players, however, just don't seem to get it.

"Personally, I like the race for the puck, but obviously people are getting hurt," Maple Leafs' forward Matt Stajan told the Canadian Press. "Sometimes hits are being thrown and you wonder about the respect factor. Every time there's an injury it makes everyone aware of it again. Eventually there will probably be something done."

"There probably would be a few less injuries every year if it was no-touch," Leafs' defenceman Staffan Kronwall said to the CP. "But it's a tough call."

Tough call? How is it a "tough call" when linesmen are already judging whether or not icing should be called when a player has an opportunity to play the puck? If it is icing, they no longer have to race down the ice to see who touches the puck first. If a linesman has his arm up, he simply waits until the puck crosses the goalline extensions.

How is it a "tough call" when there are less players getting hurt? Would it be such a "tough call" if Kronwall was the guy having a stabilizing rod put in his leg? Racing for the puck can still be done as well. How much skill does it take to send a puck down the ice as hard as you can versus feathering a puck down the ice so it never crosses the line? The faster players can still give chase. I see no logic in the Leafs players' arguments.

Look, the players will argue that it's a freak accident. So was Richard Zednik's accident. So was Clint Malarchuk's accident. So was Bryan Berard's accident. Yet all of these can be prevented in the future: Zednik and Malarchuk's injuries with neck guards; Berard's injury with mandatory visors; and Foster's injury with no-touch icing.

Common sense just doesn't seem as common today. The "old boy's club" is over. Yesterday's NHL is exactly that: the past. It's time for the NHL and NHLPA to wise up. The death of a player shouldn't be a motivating factor.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Sage Confucius said...

I completely agree. Automatic icing is way overdue in the NHL. It's an easy way to reduce the amount of injuries. I cringe each time I see players racing down to touch the puck. Even if there isn't the imminent threat of an opposing player, there is still the possibility of losing an edge and crashing into the boards. No one wants to see the guys hurt and certainly the guys don't want to be hurt. There just isn't a good reason to keep the rule as it is.