NHL introduces bear hug
Protects players from boarding
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
|The bear hug rule, if adopted by the NHL, could prevent potentially serious injuries along the boards. In the 2007 photo above, former Leaf defenceman Bryan McCabe sent former St. Louis Blue Bill Guerin flying into the boards, when he hit him from behind. (GETTY IMAGES)
TORONTO - Brian Burke was a proud papa bear on Thursday.
His crusade to have the NHL adopt a bear hug rule to protect vulnerable players from being driven into the boards had its first on-ice trial at the research and development camp in Toronto.
You had to look really closely to see the junior kids try it, wrapping the opponent to cushion impact, then quickly letting go to pursue the puck. But from his perch high above the MasterCard Centre, the Maple Leafs’ general manager was satisfied.
“I thought it worked well,” Burke said, repeating his rationale that forwards protecting pucks near the boards are oblivious to the danger of being rammed.
“It has become a tactic,” Burke continued. “Forwards are turning their numbers to the defenceman, betting he isn’t going to finish his check to take a boarding penalty. They’re taking a risk, especially when the defenceman is committed to the hit.
“When the forward makes a hard pivot right into the track of the defenceman, he can’t do anything else but finish it. When he does, that player is propelled like a billiard ball and all that force goes into the wall.
“What I’m saying is, let the defenceman put his hand on his numbers, take him in, still finish the play, recover the puck, but not have a potentially catastrophic injury.”
Everyone wants a safer game, but many wonder if it won’t be hard to distinguish a bear hug from a blatant hold.
“The challenge is can our referees assess the penalty or waive it and allow the bear hug,” Burke said. “And not allow that to become a tactic where the defenceman starts to grab everybody.”
Forward Mathew Campagna, one of the 2012 NHL draft prospects who are participating in the on-ice experiments this week, appreciated the spirit of the rule.
“The bear hug can be cheap when a player can hold you a couple of seconds, but I like that it saves players,” the Sudbury Wolves’ centre said. “I don’t think body checking will ever go away, but the bear hug keeps guys safe. Maybe it will come into the NHL some day.”
Defenceman Alex Gudbranson of the Kingston Frontenacs had mixed success applying the hug during the game.
“Wrap the guy up for two seconds and the ref says ‘release.’ I got away with it a couple of times. Sometimes you’ll get a penalty, but I think it’s a good rule. That’s why we’re here, to be guinea pigs.”