Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hockey Canada’s annual general meeting is being held in Calgary this weekend.
Bob Nicholson, the organization’s president, addressed delegates on Friday and, as outlined by Allan Maki of the Globe and Mail, he “made an impassioned speech . . . outlining the need for a rule amendment to address all head contact” in minor and female hockey.
Maki’s piece is right here but, in essence, Nicholson has called for penalties for any contact, intentional or accidental, with an opponent’s head.
What this is is a start, although Hockey Canada has had a rule dealing with headshots since 2004. A more thorough rule, as proposed by Nicholson, would be firmer and give referees more latitude in terms of handing out penalties.
This also might be the first step towards zero tolerance and that, more than anything, is what is needed.
Understand that this is all about eliminating head injuries in hockey — not finding better ways to treat them. There always will be head and facial injuries in hockey, witness the puck to the face that was absorbed by Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night.
But the concussions that are a result of hits to the head or hits from behind or checks on unsuspecting opponents have to be eliminated. Which, of course, means fighting has to go.
I wrote a column that appeared in the Kamloops Daily News and on this blog on Thursday (May 26). It dealt with concussions and some of the potential after-effects.
Early on Thursday I received a note from the parent of a minor hockey player.
“Great article on concussions,” it read. “My 13-year-old is going to play house next season for that reason. Too many injuries in rep.”
I also heard from someone who holds two season tickets with the Kamloops Blazers:
“A quick note to tell you how much I appreciate the series you have been doing on head injuries related to some of the violent aspects of hockey. I'm encouraged by your criticism of the stay-put attitude of the WHL regarding their lack of initiative to institute any rules to mitigate the possibilities of players suffering concussive-type injuries.
“My wife and I have been Blazers season-ticket holders for more than 15 years. We enjoy the games and we delight in watching the young men who play develop their skills both on and off the ice. As former educators we are aware of the social building skills the WHL experience offers them.
“The aspect of Blazers games that is our greatest concern is the needless violence associated with fighting and the sometimes brutal punishment that is meted out in attempts to ‘stop’ opposition players. We cannot watch young men flailing away at each other while so-called fans stand and scream encouragement, only to have the whole debacle replayed on the jumbo screen immediately following.
“We can only think that these boys are somebody's children who seem to be duking it out solely for the satisfaction of an encouraging crowd who, in all likelihood, wouldn't want their kids to be out there running the same risks of debilitating injuries.
“I long for the day that fighting and undisciplined, injurious plays are eliminated from the game.”
This is an issue that simply isn’t going to go away.
You can bet that the WHL’s board of governors and its general managers will be discussing headshots at the league’s annual meeting in Calgary in mid-June.
As much as the neanderthals among us call for fighting and extreme physicality to be left in the game, changes are going to have to be made.
Only time will tell how far the WHL will go. But here’s hoping it is paying attention to what is going on at Hockey Canada’s AGM in Calgary this week.
Because all this talk on concussions isn’t going to go away. In fact, it only will pick up steam as more and more stories are heard and more and more evidence comes out.
If you haven’t already, make sure to read the piece by Toronto Star reporters Rob Cribb and Randy Starkman. The headline is: What killed NHL’s Bill Masterton?
If anything, it shows that concussions aren’t a new problem to the sport of ice hockey.
That piece is right here.
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