NHL bench partitions re-fitted for safety

A new concave partition where the glass meets at the boards and the players’ bench has been...

A new concave partition where the glass meets at the boards and the players’ bench has been approved by the NHL, in hopes of averting injuries like the one suffered by Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty last season. (DAVE THOMAS/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:55 PM ET

TORONTO - The news comes a little late for Max Pacioretty, but the National Hockey League is fixing one of the most dangerous parts of the playing area.

A new concave partition where the glass meets at the boards and the players’ bench has been approved and will be in place in all 30 arenas for the start of 2011-12.

Pacioretty was steered into the turnbuckle at the Bell Centre in Montreal by big Bruin defenceman Zdeno Chara, a hit that outraged many and led to a local police investigation that is still not closed. Pacioretty suffered a concussion and fractured vertebra.

“We’ve been working since the Pacioretty incident to better protect our players through the environment,” said Kris King, senior vice-president of hockey operations.

“We’ve been working with some engineers out of Philadelphia and had some different ideas. We talked about beefed-up padding, but just felt that an actual deflection area through curved glass could allow a player to deflect off a surface rather than hit it solid.”

Several experiments were conducted before the league had a design it was satisfied with. The tests also involved crash test dummies. The system is getting its first experiment under game conditions this week at the league’s research and development camp in Toronto.

“There’s an actual spring-loaded system in place and it will be able to bounce back,” King said. “Anywhere in our buildings where there is a termination point, such as the benches, it will be rounded, so a player coming into it will have the ability to roll off of it, rather than hit it hard.”

The league has also shrunk the size of the photographer’s hole in the corner boards by about an inch. King said that was in direct response to the serious injury suffered by Toronto’s Darryl Boyce last season, his nostril was torn open when it scraped across the opening. That will also make it harder for pucks and sticks to poke through and get caught.

Reds test head sets

Referee Scott Ferguson was certainly wired to work Wednesday’s game between some of the best 2012 NHL draft prospects.

Not just excited, but fitted with an earpiece allowing him to communicate in the heat of battle with his partner, T.J. Foster. It was one of the experiments at the league’s research and development camp that could be a routine part of future games, given recent leaps in technology.

“There were pros and cons,” said Ferguson, who handles OHL games. “When the puck is loose around the net I can yell that at my partner. When it’s down low (and the second ref is further away), we can communicate on calls and support each other.

“On the cons, it can block your hearing on one side. A player came out of the penalty box, I couldn’t hear him and he nearly ran me over. You want to be able to hear that and get out of the way. And sometimes it affects your focus. You’re watching close plays and someone’s yapping in your ear. It’s good to have the communication, but by the same token, we’re always talking anyway, during TV timeouts and in the dressing room.”

Phoenix Coyotes’ coach Dave Tippett was behind one team bench and saw an immediate change in player behaviour with the knowledge the two zebras were on the same wavelength.

“You can’t hide and whack guys behind the play and that kind of stuff. It’s like coaches having an eye in the sky. You get a different perspective.”

At last year’s camp, the league tried a second ref off ice on an elevated platform near one blueline with a head set, a trial that was not attempted this time.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos