NHL – Do The Right Thing

A little over 42 years ago, Minnesota North Stars Center Bill Masterton died  after landing backwards and head first onto the ice during a game with the Oakland Seals. In the days following his death, the newly expanded National Hockey League began to seriously contemplate the consequences of allowing players on the ice without helmets. Regulation gear for today’s NHL  is considerably different.  The players from that 1968 season would probably look at the pads, the helmets and the skates and come to the conclusion that no one could possibly get hurt playing hockey in the 21st Century .

Anyone who has been invested in the league as a fan or a player will tell you that this is not the case.  The game is faster, more physical and far more dangerous than it was in the last century. The reason for this isn’t the pads or the increase in players’ size or improvements in fitness technology. At the risk of sounding like I am engaging in sports Comstockery;  the  degeneration of the gentlemen’s code that has governed the game for so long is at the heart of what makes hockey in its current form resemble a lawless brawl.

Its a given that hockey is intensely physical. Emotions run high and the mentality of those who suit up is often close to that of someone who is preparing for battle.  In interviews, athletes talk about grit and nerve and playing with a warrior’s heart and as fans and writers we encourage that because it is a rightful part of the sport. What isn’t right is when the play goes beyond routine roughness into something that is more reflective of an assault.  Surgical hits that are executed with the intention to disable players are getting to be too commonplace.

In March 8th, 2004, Canucks winger Todd Bertuzzi attempted to challenge Avalanche center Steve Moore to a fight.  Moore refused to engage and skated away. Bertuzzi skated after him and punched him in the back of the head, causing him to fall. He fell onto him, still hitting and the force drove his head into the ice, fracturing three of his neck vertebrae, cutting his face and giving him a concussion.  For punishment, Bertuzzi was suspended for the rest of the season.  Moore’s career as a professional hockey player was finished.  For whatever reason, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman  reinstated Bertuzzi in 2005 and he is still playing for the NHL.

It is arguable that Commissioner Bettman could have sent a strong message to the league had he informed Bertuzzi that he could play hockey when Moore was able to play hockey again.  Could this latest rash of dirty attacks on the ice over the past two weeks -almost exactly five years after Bertuzzi ended Moore’s career-  have possibly been prevented if the perpetrators thought they could lose their own careers if they deliberately endangered someone else?

Would Derek Boogaard have raised his stick in celebration after his knee-on-knee hit on Ryan Jones if he thought he would be spending more than two games in suspension?  When people like Boogaard and Downie, who attempted to do a knee roll on Sidney Crosby earlier today, commit these acts, they know that they may miss a few games or spend some time in the penalty box but there is no accountability for their actions beyond that.  When someone as talented as Alexander Ovechkin engages so unnecessarily in such shenanigans, he knows he is going to get, at the very worst a game ejection and possibly a light suspension.   Think about it: If Matt Cooke wasn’t wearing the colors of one of the favored franchises in the league, his actions -more attacks than anything resembling legitimate rough play- would have landed him in prison long before he inflicted a head shot to Bruins center Marc Savard that resulted in a Grade 2 concussion.

For this last debilitating attack on Savard, Cooke was given…nothing. According to the officials and the people at the NHL regs office in Toronto, Cooke didn’t break any rules.  So he spent no time in the penalty box, no time away from the game, for him, it’s business as usual.  Given that Bettman gave Bertuzzi’s expression of remorse as a good enough reason to reinstate him, it looks like Cooke will probably face no consequences for his actions.  The argument that has been given in his defense is that it would be unfair to make him the test case.  If this situation does not call for some sort of action beyond a few fruitless meetings and lots of handwringing on behalf of the NHL and the NHLPA,  what will?  Another death on the ice?

Hockey is a rough and tumble game.   It is also a game of strategy and finesse, a gentlemen’s game where there are long held rules of engagement that keep things civilized.  The men who break those rules, who inflict those dirty hits are neither gentlemen nor are they legitimate ahtletes. They are mere thugs and there is no place for them in the NHL.   It would be unrealistic and not too terribly appealing to see hockey turned into a zero-contact sport played by whey-faced altarboys.  No one who loves or respects the game wants to see it devolve into senseless blood sport, either.  It is, however, way past time for Gary Bettman and the NHL Powers That Be to act in the same spirit of love and respect for the game that keeps the people on both sides of the glass coming back.  It is time for the NHL to  send a strong message to those who try to substitue brute strength for talent and winning at any cost for bred in the bone sportsmanship. It is time for the NHL to do the right thing.

1 thought on “NHL – Do The Right Thing”

  1. The Masterson concussion and the Savard injury were, according to one NFL and boxing specialist, two very different injuries. The hit to the top or back of the head can result in subdural hematoma, brain bleed, on the top of the brain. I should know, my dad was hit by a car and this is what ultimately killed him. These, upper cranial concussions are the reason MRI is immediatly taken, if diagnosed correctly, a drill hole is (burr hole) is put in the area to releave pressure from inside, due to pressure from the bleeding. This was misdiagnosed in my dad and lead to his brain stem moving to the point of brain death.
    Concussion from blows to the jaw, like Savards injury, are more likely to traumatize the frontal temporal lobe, more specifically the area located just behind the ear canal, the medial temporal area. These types of concussions, it’s been reported, have different symptoms related to the nerves in the area. Blows to the jaw, affect the bundle of nerves, eye, facial, inner ear equilibrium, ect., that live in the temporal mandibular area or the cranial vault. The cartilage withinj the joint is not like other joints in the body, unlike a knee or elbow, it is a sliding joint. Although the cartilage serves the same cushioning purpose. Just like the knee meniscus, which is meant to cushion the transfer of energy from the lower leg to the thigh bone, once slipped it becomes diagnosable. Anyone who has experienced this, slipped cartilage disc, would understand the pain and cronic implications it has. As a weght bearing joint, staying off it and surgery may be the only course of action.
    The temporal mandibular joint is not a weight bearing joint, many NHL/AHL players, trainers and medical staff, have no education about the need to support/evaluate the jaw and it’s relation to concussion. When I say, support, I’m not talking about the teeth. Although the only way to do so is with an oral appliance that is mounted to the teeth. Common mouth guards are designed to protect the teeth and do not address imbalances of the bite, worn molars, removed or deteriorated teeth, make an individuallly fit, medically fit orthotic crucial in addressing these issues. Orthodontics or prior injury, slanted teeth or no teeth at all. These are all common findings in athletes, yet dentists are not trained to identify how these elements or defects relate to the positioning of the temporal bone located just centermeters from the paper thin piece of bone, located just milimeters from the medial temporal area.
    Many experts, one from Harvard MGH, feel this could this be the mechanism that has been ignored by aftercare evaluators like Cantu. Dr. Robert Cantu, who has recognized the issue, stated in congressional testimoney, blows to the chin/jaw can be related to concussion. He went on to say CTE or dead brain cells manifests in the medial temporal region, or just behind the ear. This has been found in footbal players, boxers and now hockey players.
    Concussion “experts” who are now at the center of attention, psyche testing, helmet technology developers. The main focus is on aftercare, measuring how bad the injury is. Hockey helmet technology, although improving, can’t protect blows to the jaw. The misconception, that mouth guards have no effect on concussion prevention, was due to the fact that they do not address slipped meniscus/defects and do nothing to correct prior making the mouth guard. Their is no way, unless you support the skeletal structure with a corrective medical device, like the one used with the Washington Capitals system. Hershey Bear players like Brian Pothier, accounted for 142 missed games last season. After fitting and evaluation for these factors, they have zero games lost due to concussion, enacting CHUBB, the workers comp provider for the NHL to provide a benefit to fit players with prior injury. This can be confirmed by Hershey trainer Dan Stuck, who has been in the league for over twenty years and was chosen to oversee the AHL allstar team. His team won the AHL championship.
    For more info and stories on this from ESPN, the Boston Globe, medical publications, go to http://www.mahercor.com or contact me for a story at mpicot@mahercorlabs.com

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