March is a truly exciting month for hockey. It’s full of High School State Championships and playoff races heating up in just about every professional and junior league. You’ve got your NCAA conference finals and the looming national tournament. USA Hockey’s National Championships are also right around the corner. There’s truly an aura of excitement in the air.
Unfortunately though, it’s not all sunshine and roses for the game of hockey of late. The main topic has been head injuries and hits to the head and what the NHL should be doing about them. It came to what looked like it’s boiling point with the Chara-Pacioretty incident of last week and has only further gained steam as the NHL GMs met in Boca Raton.
Perhaps one of my favorite articles on this topic was Nicholas Cotsonika’s for Yahoo! Sports. Cotsonika got inside Mike Murphy’s head on his decision not to suspend Chara and it pretty much confirmed my thoughts all along. While the decision wasn’t very popular in the public relations battle, the decision wasn’t made for PR or political reasons. It was what the NHL felt was fair and I think it was a hard decision to make, but a decision I understand.
This quote, from Cotsonika’s story, is important to remember:
“I think we’re trying to deal with a bigger issue of how we can keep our game as entertaining and as fast and exciting as it is, but make it safer for the players,” Murphy said. “The way we need to manage and police ourselves is right for the game of hockey. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for Canada as a nation or the U.S. as a nation. It’s outside the politics of normal society.”
Understand this. We can make hockey safer, but doing so is so much harder than anyone has given it credit for. Eliminating head checks (as the NHL GMs voted against in their meetings) would have been a small step for PR, but perhaps not an impactful step for the future of the game. Consider how many arguments between hockey pundits, journalists, bloggers, GMs, coaches and fans took place over hits like Chara’s on Pacioretty. Neither side could agree if the hit was legal or not. So why, then, should the NHL GMs vote for a ban on something that is not necessarily cut and dry?
It’s not like this is a new topic. As I tweeted last night, “Man, I really miss the days when #NHLplayers never got hit in the head and no one ever got concussed.”
I, of course, wasn’t being serious. No such time has existed and that is my point. Head injuries are not new. What is new is the frequency (though there’s no telling how many concussions went undiagnosed in previous years) and seemingly, the severity of the injury. Look at Sidney Crosby, Marc Savard or Peter Mueller.
The good news is, we know more about concussions than ever before thanks to loads of research. The bad news is, it doesn’t make their after effects any more predictable or controllable.
This issue isn’t going away anytime soon. However, the impassioned debates I’ve seen on Twitter and in the headlines lack any sort of clarity. There have been many statements thrown about by bloggers, journalists, sponsors, and even politicians without any real idea of how to fix the problem. Everyone simply says, “This is broken. Fix it.”
The only thing I can say to my fellow hockey fans is to try and calm down. That is not to say, forget about this or sweep it under the rug. It is to say educate yourself fully on what has been done and what is being done before flying off the handle and spewing misinformed venom at all the wrong places.
So in the end, my point is this. The NHL can’t and won’t make everyone happy, but they can and, I believe, will find a way to make the players safer without vastly effecting the flow and pace of the game. Until then, we have to let the powers that be do their best at making positive change that will benefit both the players and the game as a whole.
Links from around the USofH:
MORE ON CONCUSSIONS? Yes. This time it’s back to the youth body checking debate. The Vancouver Sun’s Mike Barber wrote a piece about a study out of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto that shows that implementing body checking at the younger ages (9-10, as is the case in some Canadian provinces) increased the likelihood of head injuries in youth hockey players. There have been several conflicting studies on when to implement body checking, which should tell you all you need to know about how close we are to figuring out concussions in hockey.
As I tweeted earlier Wednesday, USA Hockey will name it’s head coach for the 2012 U.S. National Junior Team Friday in St. Paul. The announcement will be made prior to the first semifinal game at the WCHA Final Five at the Xcel Energy Center. Odds are, due to the location of the announcement and subsequent presser, Team USA’s coach will be a current WCHA bench boss. Paging Dean Blais? (Purely speculation on my part)
Fuel for the CHL vs. NCAA fire? Friend of the blog Chris Dilks has one of the snarkiest most sarcastic posts I’ve read on this topic. Even if you disagree with Dilks’s position, the execution is chuckle-worthy. If you’ll recall, two years ago it sounded like the Windsor Spitfires and Kitchener Rangers were planning to sue Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson for what the two OHL clubs deemed to be libelous statements regarding Cam Fowler’s signing with Windsor. I’ll let Dilks take over from there. While the post is hilarious (if you’re an NCAA backer), he makes a few valid points in there, too. He kind of goes after everyone in the process. I’d really like to see a rebuttal from the other side, just to see what comes up.
Kyle Rau of Eden Prairie High School got a storybook ending to his senior season. He scored the game-winner in the Minnesota State Tournament (with an assist from his twin brother, Kurt) and the following day was named Mr. Hockey. Today? A mention on Deadspin. Don’t worry. It’s the good kind of mention. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Rau in the American Prospect Update at length.
If you didn’t know, USA Hockey and the NHL took part in a briefing of members of congress, congressional staffers, media and fans on Capitol Hill last week. First Lady Michelle Obama also took part in some of the festivities that included a street hockey game in front of the White House. Mrs. Obama also announced that November 2011 will be Come Play Youth Hockey Month as part of her national “Let’s Move” initiative. Here is a solid run down of all that happened during the visit with a bunch of links and other great info.
Don’t forget, the American Prospect Update returns tomorrow with updates on Mr. Hockey Kyle Rau, Saginaw’s Vince Trocheck, Matt Killian of Delbarton H.S., BU’s Adam Clendening, and more. I’ll also take a look at the International Scouting Service’s latest Top 30 ranking.