I am a sports nut, that should go without saying, but one of the most exciting sports has begun its campaign. Living in Illinois, I am often reminded of who are the current keepers of Lord Stanley’s Cup but I also have a keen eye on my hometown team, the Colorado Avalanche. With all that being said I do not follow hockey nearly as well as football, or my own high school sports (our soccer team in undefeated). However, this is a sport that is also classified as a collision sport and is predisposed to disproportionate amounts of head trauma.
This season there should be some interesting findings about concussions as a confluence of a few rule changes as well as an Olympic schedule may in fact reduce the incidence of concussion, here is why;
- Longer season (not strike shortened) so the players don’t feel the pressure to play so damned hard so quickly
- Olympic schedule will have players worried about country over NHL when the winter gets in full swing
- Fighters must keep helmets on for fights (I guess visored players cannot fight) for protection when falling to the ice
- Rule 48 is in its third year, referees, players and the league have a better grasp on the outlawed hits
OK, logically there should be “more” concussions as the season is longer than last, but the above does put impetus on player safety. NHL players have done a good job over the past three years (since starting this blog) of recognizing injury and the unnecessary hits that could cause this injury. It is sport, so there will remain the borderline to egregious hits that will hurt an opponent, but I have noticed a culture shift.
There are no papers or research on this, rather my trained eye when watching as much hockey as I can. Caveat: I do see mainly the Blackhawk games but get to watch some others as time allows. What I started to notice last year and hopeful it continues is the absence of launching while body checking. In 2010-11 players were like missiles; using speed and then at the last-minute leaving the ice to check a player. Naturally when you leave the ice you go higher on a player and get near or at the head, causing damage. Perhaps this is Rule 48 starting to take effect or the league being very demonstrative with their suspensions, regardless I have seen a lot less of it. And it is a good thing.
The “hot-button” topic as the season begins is fighting, made evident by the Habs’ George Parros injury, from fighting. It wasn’t a fist that brought on the concussion, rather the surface on which they play, the ice. Parros was dragged down as the fight was concluding and he hit kisser first and knocked him out cold. The response of the athletic trainers was outstanding as was the care for Parros, we will wait to see how his overall management is handled (FWIW the Canadians have done a good job with their concussed skaters).
Is fighting necessary?
As a fan of the sport, from not as hockey crazed America, I can understand both arguments in this debate about the fabric of the game. But as an athletic trainer and concussion nerd the need to fight can be abated with proper rule enforcement. Wait, did I just write “proper rule enforcement”, where have I heard that before… anyone… anyone… Oh, yeah, the sport of football.
Players, the good ones, do need protection from the opponents if the referees are not going to do that, I get that. Hence the need for an “enforcer” – the title given to Parros – if the stripes are not going to do it then the hips and fists of Parros’s ilk will get it done and send that machismo message. Maybe when there was only one referee on the ice this was more of a need in professional hockey, now with two (the linesman should also be able to call penalties) there should be no need if a player is getting mugged or roughed up outside the framework of the rules, it simply should be called. If star players are getting knocked here and there, legally, but still too much as deemed by the team you could send a goon out there to deal with it. But why fight? The sole purpose of fighting is to injure, if your player is not taking premeditated shots with the purpose of injury then why fight? If they are getting those shots why are penalties not called?
Fighting is a great testosterone boosting event for the sport, “it makes them men”, and how else would a slow-footed behemoth get to play in the NHL? Again, the idea of fighting in the NHL is to send a message via injury and how is that good for the sport or the skaters? And why would be think less of these outstanding athletes, come Sochi time we will not see fights on the ice (shouldn’t; IIHF does not allow). Why in the NHL?
Isn’t it time that the Don Cherry’s of the world be put out to pasture with what we know about head injuries – or maybe the Don Cherry’s of the world have been in one to many donnybrooks to realize that this is not such a good idea…
Photo credit to usatoday.com, found via Google Search for ‘George Parros’