Here is a news flash for everyone who loves to overanalyze every big hit in the NHL these days and is calling for suspensions to be handed down every time an unsuspecting player is nailed by — what for it — “a blindside hit.”
Hockey is a mean, rough game. Players get hurt and if you don’t protect yourself, you can get seriously injured.
I don’t know exactly when it happened, but a large number of players who suit up in the modern NHL no longer know how to protect themselves and are putting themselves in vulnerable positions at alarming rates.
I remember my first training camp with the Detroit Red Wings. I was going back for a puck when old veteran Shawn Burr was barrelling in behind me. Before I got to the puck, I looked down for a split second and was driven headfirst into the boards.
I skated dazed and confused back to the bench where my defence partner Steve Chiasson was waiting for me.
I initially thought he was concerned for me, but instead he laid into me: “Kid, you’ve got to keep your head up or you’re going to get killed out here.”
Call it on the job training or whatever you like, but I learned in a hurry that you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times, because if you let your guard down for a split second, you’re going to get seriously injured .
I remember later on in my career playing for the Senators, we were taking on the Sabres and Steve Martins, who was a little buzzsaw, came streaking across the Buffalo blue line. He laid a soft drop pass to his linemate Bruce Gardiner and for a split second Martins looked back and admired his nice little pass.
Martins left himself in a vulnerable position and that split second was all it took for Mike Peca to pounce on the unsuspecting Martins with an enormous open-ice blindside hit.
Miraculously, Martins popped right back up, but when he got back to the bench, he didn’t blame Peca, he was mad at himself for having his head down and putting himself in a position to get blown up like that.
More and more these days, I’m seeing forwards turn their back on defencemen thinking they won’t be hit because “my back is turned and that is hitting from behind, the referee will protect me. I don’t need to worry.”
That is a big reason why more and more players are going down.
Jason Pominville was the victim of a huge hit by Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson last week.
It was an ugly scene when Pominville was taken off on a stretcher on a hit that was deemed to be a blindside hit from behind.
I am not condoning the hit and I agree that it was a hit from behind, but I don’t know why a forward who is waiting to get the puck out of the zone on the half-wall has his back turned to the opposing defencemen on the blue line.
I look at that as a player not ready to do battle with a pinching defencemen, a player putting himself in a vulnerable position and a player trusting the referee and the new rules to protect him.
Friday night, Senators winger Nick Foligno was skating through the neutral zone when he stepped into the Hurricanes’ Patrick Dwyer with a stiff shoulder.
It wasn’t a malicious hit, but the end result was Foligno’s shoulder catching a good piece of Dwyer’s head.
Many will argue that the player didn’t see him coming, his head was down and he was vulnerable, but when you think about it, whose fault is that?
Is Foligno supposed to move out of the way and give him a free pass through the neutral zone?
Or should he do what every good NHL player is player is taught NOT to do: Play the puck, not the man, because if the puck hops over your stick, don’t worry, when you get back to the bench coach Cory Clouston won’t mind if your man gets by you because your main priority on the ice is to make sure you don’t hurt that other player — yeah, right.
Isn’t pro hockey also supposed to be about having fun, not winning and losing? Maybe players should have a Freezee break between periods with some sliced oranges.
Hockey is no different than other sports. When you sign your contract, you know the risks. Hockey is a dangerous, intense game and that is part of the reason why players make so much money.
Every time I stepped on the ice, I knew I was taking a risk (Maybe tonight’s the night I get rammed into the boards.Maybe tonight’s the night I lose every tooth in my mouth. Maybe tonight’s the night I leave the rink on a stretcher.).
The NHL wants to get rid of headshots, concussions are on the rise, there is no respect in the game, players are reckless. These are all common themes that are being echoed around the league.
I agree with some of those statements, but come on.
What did the league think would happen when the ability for players to hold up, set picks and protect their teammates from getting drilled from behind was taken out of the game?
When the new obstruction rules came into play, I knew two things would happen.
No. 1: Brendan Shanahan would be able to extend his career a few more years because he makes his living on the power play. No. 2: Serious injuries in the NHL were going to go way up.
As a defenceman, when your partner went back to retrieve the puck, your job was to step in front of the forechecker and protect him because if he got ran that was on you.
With the shrinking of the neutral zone and zero tolerance, players are now able to pick up tremendous amounts of speed through the neutral zone and, as the past few years have demonstrated, the results can be devastating.
The NHL is faster than ever and a split-second decision by a player can be catastrophic, but one thing I do know is, a player with his head down is sometimes just as much to blame as the player delivering the blow.