November 10, 2009
Putting heads togetherWHL coaches, players debate impact high hits are having on game
By SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA
Everyone has seen 'the hit.'
Now they're talking about 'the suspension.'
Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch suspended Erie Otters forward Michael Liambas for the entire season last week after Liambas threw a hit that sent Kitchener Rangers defenceman Ben Fanelli to hospital with skull fractures.
Swift Current Broncos forward Cody Eakin said the speed of the collision, as opposed to being a 'dirty' hit, led to the injuries.
"It was pretty vicious," Eakin said. "The guy could have slowed down. But as far as jumping or elbowing, I don't think he did it at all.
"But it was definitely as fast as he could go."
But while most players seem to agree the year-long ban was an over-reaction, Everett Silvertips coach Craig Hartsburg is fine with the lengthy suspension.
"I trust Dave Branch," Hartsburg said. "I have a lot of respect for him. I think he's a guy who cares deeply about the game, and he cares deeply about the safety of his players.
"Under the circumstances, I think he made the right decision."
Hartsburg, who played 10 seasons with the Minnesota North Stars before embarking on a coaching career that has taken him behind five NHL benches, said the game needs to get rid of head shots.
"I think hockey has to get together on this at all levels," he said. "I think it's important that we -- as coaches and managers and heads of the league -- have to cut those types of hits out.
"Maybe I'm an old-time hockey player, but body checking used to be to eliminate the man and take the puck.
"Now, it seems, at times, it has gone past that -- it's to try to hurt people.
"Everybody wants to see a good bodycheck, but there are times when you have to respect your opponent."
Calgary Hitmen enforcer Ian Schultz agrees with Hartsburg's assertion that body checking has changed over the years.
"It's a lot more violent," Schultz said. "But that's a reason why the equipment has caught up so much, for protection-wise.
"At the start, guys were throwing shoulders just to separate a guy from the puck and create space for each other. But now, it's to hurt people."
Eakin said improved equipment is not the answer.
"The respect has gone down," the Washington Capitals prospect said. "We've gone from not wearing helmets and not having concussions to wearing helmets with more padding and guys are getting hurt more often."
Schultz said cracking down on high hits in the NHL would have a trickle-down effect.
"If you crack down on the high hits in the NHL, if you give a guys a couple games' suspension, maybe young kids see that's not allowed in the game," he said.
"Most people get excited for a big hit, no matter what, even more excited if the guy's hurt.
"If you look at the reaction from a big open-ice hit, fans cheer extra hard if the guy stays down .
"Kids might get mixed messages from that and try to hurt people, and that's a scary thought."