Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Why Shanahan Is Right

If you follow international hockey or you have a tyke in minor hockey, you may have seen the call made by a referee that looks like the image to the left. That, readers, is the signal in hockey for a check to the head, and it appears that more and more Canadians believe that hockey players should recognize what they look like when throwing them. With the crackdown issued by Brendan Shanahan this season on checks to the heads, the NHL is certainly recognizing that targeting the head is not only dangerous, but illegal in the rules of the game. While some general managers were thought to have put pressure on Shanahan to ease up in his suspension tirade, I, for one, think that Shanahan is finally doing the right thing for the NHL. Canadians across the country seem to agree that the onus is on the player doing the checking, not the victim, to prevent hits to the head.

Thanks to a recent Canadian Press article featured in the Globe & Mail, the numbers prove that the majority of Canadians agree with Brendan Shanahan. According to a Harris-Decima Canadian Press poll, "63 per cent of those polled believe such hits are intentional, while 26 per cent think such hits are unavoidable. A majority in all regions and among both men and women feel these hits are done on purpose." Those number say a lot.

Nearly two-thirds of the Canadians polled feel that hits to the head of players are intentional. Not accidental - INTENTIONAL. That's a damning statistic for players when it comes to the people paying their salaries. What's worse is that 59 percent of "avid hockey fans", as classified by the poll, "believe they [hits to the head] are unnecessary and usually done on purpose". Ouch.

"That was probably a pretty frequent reminder visually of exactly how some of these hits go," Doug Anderson, senior vice-president of Harris-Decima said about Sidney Crosby's injury. "To see the avid fan come down on the side of thinking that head hits are avoidable, I thought that was a pretty compelling message and made me think that the stuff that (NHL disciplinarian) Brendan Shanahan is doing this year probably resonates with the fans as well as the broader public that really aren't the audience for hockey anyway."

The numbers go deeper. As you're probably aware, Don Cherry's rant on this past weekend's Coach's Corner that led to him calling former NHLers Chris Nilan, Stu Grimson, and Jim Thomson some unsavoury names has him in some hot water with the former pugilists. I like hearing Cherry's old-school thoughts on the game, but it seems his way is no longer the Canadian way according to this poll as well.

63 percent of hockey fans in Canada think fighting in hockey should be banned as opposed to 32 percent who do not. Surprisingly, I was shocked to read that "residents of Quebec are most likely to give fighting a thumb's down, while those in Alberta are the least likely to do so". 70 percent of women and 55 percent of men think that fighting is passé, while "avid hockey fans" saw 45 percent opt to ban fighting.

While I doubt that fighting is going away anytime soon, Shanahan has said that the NHL is looking at fighting as well. Fights certainly have less devastating effects in the short-term when compared to checks to the head, but the long-term damages can be torturous for players, and that's something that needs to be considered.

It all comes down to doing the right thing for the players, and it sounds like the Canadian public wants more. "67 per cent among avid fans, 60 per cent among occasional followers and 54 per cent of those not really interested" think that the NHL's rules on checks to the head are far too lenient. If the NHL can continue to clean up its act, they may bring more fans to the game as it sounds like fans are starting to tire of the violence.

If nothing else, this is proof positive that Brendan Shanahan's heavy hand when it comes to suspensions is the right thing to do.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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