Attack After The Hit – Hockey’s Next Epidemic


Hockey Hits, specifically hitting from behind has been on the NHL’s agenda for quite some time, but NHL brass has yet to find a solution for this pesky, recurrent problem. Kukla’s Korner highlighted discrepancies in the handing out of suspensions by NHL brass last December.

Fighting in hockey has also been scrutinized, especially coming to the forefront with the unfortunate passing of Don Sanderson earlier this year from injuries suffered from a hockey fight.

Back in February, I had initially expressed my concern over the latest emerging epidemic in hockey – the retaliation after clean hockey hits.

Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL, Hockey, Dion Phaneuf
Dion Phaneuf (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

With the recent demolishing but legal hit by Dion Phaneuf on Kyle Okposo (see video below) and subsequent retaliation on Phaneuf by the Islanders Pascal Morency, my concerns were again heightened. In this incidence, the NHL has so far taken the necessary steps and has suspended Morency indefinitely to be reviewed in the near future. We are left to wonder that the fact that he left the bench might be more of a determinant of why the NHL is going after him in this instance. It will be interesting to see the outcome of this and if the NHL’s brass’ actions are consistent in the future.

As a Flames writer, to show I am not biased on this issue, here is another example involving Rene Bourque attacking Tyler Sloan after his fantastic, vicious clean hit on Daymond Langkow. Bourque should have been punishing more heftily for this dangerous play. I like Bourque’s enthusiasm and his willingness to stick up for and defend his teammates, but with the physical players the Flames have, Bourque should have kept his cool, take Sloan’s number and pay him back in the “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” fashion – that is, lay a hit on him so that his coach feels it!

Here’s a rundown of the usual course of events of the NHL’s latest epidemic:

The Cause: vicious, but clean, legal hockey hits.

The Symptoms: An immediate retaliation by the teammate of the victim who was rocked by the above mentioned hit.

The Disease: A player making one of the most exciting plays in hockey, that is: a clean,  jarring hit, needlessly and wrongly becoming the victim.

The Cure: Harsher penalties/suspensions by NHL disciplinary officials.

Okay, in the heat of battle, tempers do flare. I get that and can relate, being an intense competitor myself when partaking in anything from a rec ball hockey game to facing off in a game of NHL 09 on Playstation. However, when a guy has to defend or stand up for himself immediately after landing a perfectly clean, crushing hit, this is getting annoying and could lead to another potential dangerous situation. Often after a player delivers such a blow, he is momentarily defenceless, comparable to being hit from behind, when the teammate of the victim immediately starts his attack. Of course, there are times when it is borderline whether or not bone-jarring hockey hits are clean or dirty. Nonetheless, it should be left up to the officials or even the NHL higher brass to make that call. Of course, easier said than done.

Whatever happened to taking a player’s number and getting payback later in the game or even in the season, but all within the framework of the rules? Hitting is obviously a major part of sports like football and rugby. How do players respond in those respective sports when a tremendous hit is laid? Teammates take numbers and revenge can indeed be sweet, but in most circumstances, within the confines of the rules.

Again, sticking up for teammates – good.

But…a player getting punished for performing one of the most exciting plays in hockey – NOT acceptable!

George Johnson (Calgary Herald) wrote a ridiculous column after the Phaneuf on Okposo hit that incredibly echoes the sentiments of many a hockey fan. Johnson thinks Phaneuf should “stand up” after making such vicious hits. Are you kidding me?!? Phaneuf’s expectations from his coaching staff is to no doubt be a physically menacing presence, including utilizing his abilty to dish out crunching hits. I’m willing to bet though, that Brent Sutter and staff encourage and enforce that Phaneuf stay out of the ensueing melee that unfolds after one of these hits. The Flames don’t need Dion in the sin bin for any more than he needs to be! I’m also willing to wager that Phaneuf has fear for nobody or next to nobody that dons a NHL uniform. A devoted hockey and Islander fan emailed me after this hit and said, although he hated to admit it, it was a vicious, but clean hit. He also was disgusted by the idea a  hockey player should have to fight another teammate of the victim after dishing out demolishing hockey hits. I couldn’t agree more.

Scott Stevens is a name that keeps being brought up. No doubt Stevens could dish out the hits comparable to Pete Rose and stand up for himself effortlessly without fear of anyone. However, I don’t seem to recall Stevens ever leading the league in fighting majors, and, in fact, correct me if I’m wrong, but rarely did he have the need to defend himself in a fight after a hit. Of course, the argument can be made he had built up his reputation and his intimidation factor. I think it was more about respect for each other by players in the generation Stevens played in.

How exactly should these offences be penalized? While I don’t have an exact answer for that, each situation should be reviewed individually, of course. Having said that, the punishment needs to act as an effective deterrent, whether it be a 10 or 20 game suspension of the offending player. I would also like to see a coach or team fine tacked on as well. Then the organization is more accountable for player’s actions and will be forced to deal with it internaly how it sees fit to prevent such incidents.

Curtis Stock, of the Edmonton Journal, had an interesting, if not far-fetched answer to help defeat the hits from behind epidemic.  “Following a suspension, a team is penalized the amount of games their player has been suspended in penalty minutes to start the next game.” I’m not so sure a play in one game should effect the outcome of another subsequent game that directly though. But it does spark an “outside the box” type of thinking and discussion on how to deal with these problematic issues.

About a week ago, posted an article on how “National Academy of Neuropsychology (NAN) and National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) team up on campaign to raise concussion awareness” in hockey. “As a centerpiece of the NAN and NATA efforts, a 12-minute educational video titled ‘Concussions in Hockey: Signs, Symptoms and Playing Safe,’ has now been released nationally. The video, sponsored by the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association, features comments from Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars and retired NHL players Pat LaFontaine and Eric Lindros.”

I am all for initiatives such as these, but you have to first and foremost get to the heart of the problem. The NHL and NHLPA brass should be tackling issues such as hitting from behind and attacks after a clean hit more aggressively and effectively.


8 thoughts on “Attack After The Hit – Hockey’s Next Epidemic”

  1. Well in, Brian (who is actually the Phaneuf pic’s photographer)!

    This is the type of counterpoint I would expect on, as you put it, such a “delicate” topic.

    It is a subject I am quite passionate about, but I do realize there is another side to the debate.

    I still stick to my guns though to “take the guy’s number” and pay him back with a taste of his own medicine.

    Thanks for the comment!

  2. This is such a delicate topic.. Who’s to decide when a hit is borderline between clean and not clean.. When is it dangerous?

    You mention the Phaneuf hit… Clean…….. Well …. we could argue that from now till christmas … He catches a guy with his head down and yes Okposo should probably learn to keep his head up, but Phaneuf has obvious contact to his head and is about to get airborne when he hits him.. Phaneuf is pretty good at leaving his feet as he hits a guy (just look how he flies after the hit)….

    I’ll agree that there are cases where the hitter gets jumped for an above average hit.

  3. Well in Bruce!

    I’m glad you chimed in before I did as I might not have been so gentle.

    I appreciate the comments John K, but you’ve missed the boat totally on the issue I was trying to hammer home.

    The fact that no harm came to Phaneuf in this specific incident is irrelevant. It actually proves another point the the Herald article totally misses upon – that he can and will stand up for himself. Morency attempted to take Dion down, but ended up being man-handled himself as Phaneuf threw him to the ice.

    I suggest you re-read the article and try and decipher the points I am trying to make. I say decipher very loosely as the points are, in fact, quite evident.

    I was definitely expecting opposing viewpoints, but in the process of stating your counterpoints, please don’t take the article out of context.


  4. What kind of bizarre logic prompts one to decide that a legal hit being reprimanded with a legal fight should be punished?

    A victim? You think Dion Phaneuf is a victim? If he can dish out an open ice check that could possibly end a players career – we’ve seen it before – then why in the holy hells should we be forbidden to challenging him to answer the bell physically? Dion didn’t fight, and that is his perogative. But punishing the guy for standing up for his teammate? Utter, inanely ridiculous.

    I have no beef about eh suspension for leaving the bench, that is a clear violation, but as for the rest of your ‘viewpoint’, I will have to say I completely disagree.

    Lets put it this way: hockey hits have short circuited a lot more careers then hockey fights have. Either you attack all fighting in hockey, or you accept the absolute undeniable truth that hockey allows a team mate to challenge an opponent who throws damaging body checks. As a quick aside, personally I happen to agree with the Herald article: don’t play rough unless you can handle rough.

    Finally, if you really are going after ‘attacks’ like you say in the article, then it should have nothing to do with retaliation to hitting, or in fact anything other then the fact that some flagrant attack has happened on the ice. To call what happened to Phaneuf an attack is pretty sketchy, since he didn’t hurt a pinkie toe in the whole exchange.

    • John,

      You obviously don’t understand the game.

      ..reprimanded with a legal fight…

      The last time I popped open a rule book fights were still ‘illegal’ in NHL hockey, punished typically with a 5 min. penalty – your logic does not hold up right from the get go.
      More than this of course are the natural flows and nuances of a well played hockey game. As soon as this type of retaliation occurs the beauty leaves. It becomes an ugly game (or at least an ugly period).

  5. Hey Chris – outstanding post. I think this topic is a growing trend and a BAD one. The league must step up and hand out Big suspensions. I can’t believe that clean legal hits are being retaliated like this. I first noticed this last season and it really gets under my skin. The Coaches need to make players understand that while it may give players another reason get rowdy in junior, it has no place in the NHL.
    Not only did you bring up a very important topic but did so in fine fashion.

    Great job and thanks.
    I’ll push this through some of my channels in hopes of it getting widely linked to.

  6. Thanks Bruce! Glad someone else thinks as I do.

    This is a topic I’m passionate about and it was actually tough to STOP writing – haha! So much to say, so little time it seems.

    As a Flames fans, I’ve seen it from both sides, as I’ve noted in the article, on several occasions. There was actually another incident where Phaneuf flattened the Ducks’ Andrew Ebbett and Pronger jumped in on Phaneuf thereafter. That hit was a closer call but I will still contend it was a legal hit. I could see the argument the other way, but I still vote for clean.

    Seems like the NHL is much more reactive than PROactive, and I stongly beliweve they will pay the ultimate price in the future when a super-serious injury or, god-forbid, fatality happens in the not so distant future.

    Keep the comments coming!

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