Head shots out in OHL crackdown

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

The OHL is trying to snuff out dangerous head shots, but won't touch the wickedness of slapshots until next season.

After sweeping changes to the rule book last year, the OHL's lone adjustment this time is a crackdown on checking to a player's head. An increase in the maximum curvature of a player's stick, which went to three-quarters of an inch from half an inch in the NHL this year, will be adopted next season.

Regarding head checks, the OHL will leave it to the discretion of the referee to issue a two-minute minor penalty or five-minute major plus game misconduct based on the degree of impact. A match penalty will be assessed to a player who deliberately attempts to injure an opponent with a head check.

Using a shoulder to administer the blow doesn't matter. A head check is a head check and the OHL wants a decrease in concussions.

"The league implemented a concussion management program five years ago and this new rule is another step forward in the health and welfare of our players," OHL commissioner Dave Branch said from Peterborough, where the defending league champion Petes dropped the puck on the 2006-07 campaign last night.

Branch has busy days ahead with new rinks opening in Sault Ste. Marie on Oct. 11 and Oshawa on Nov. 3. Kingston will have a new facility next year.

"Several OHL teams are looking at the development of a new arena and have realized a proper facility is important to the ongoing viability of an OHL franchise," he said.

The OHL has a mess it needs to solve quickly with Eugene Melnyk running the Toronto St. Michael's Majors and Mississauga IceDogs. The Ottawa Senators owner plans to move the Majors to Mississauga's Hershey Centre next year and find a buyer for the IceDogs, who will move to a yet-to-be-determined new home.

Branch paid tribute to longtime OHL coach Bill Long, who passed away at age 88 in London two months ago. The Knights will honour Long, a former London coach-general manager, during tonight's pregame ceremony.

"He was the consummate professional and always performed his duties that way," Branch said. "In 1989, the OHL's highest off-ice honour was named the Bill Long award for distinguished service."

Branch also announced the annual all-star game will take place outside of Canada for the first time when it heads to Saginaw Jan. 31. The Canada-Russia challenge series will continue and venues for the OHL's two games will be revealed in November.

Bid applications for the 2008 Memorial Cup, which will be played in an OHL market, will be accepted until February with a decision by early May.

Branch also said the league is still in the process of hiring a referee-in-chief and a video goal judge has been instituted in each OHL arena.


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