SUN Hockey Pool

Hitters 'might think twice'

Flyers forward Claude Giroux is driven into the boards by Maple Leafs Luke Schenn (front) and Joey...

Flyers forward Claude Giroux is driven into the boards by Maple Leafs Luke Schenn (front) and Joey Crabb (back) at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., March 10, 2011. (FRED THORNHILL/Reuters)

DAVE HILSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:36 AM ET

TORONTO - It seems Don Cherry didn’t get things completely wrong during his now-infamous rant on CBC the other night.

He might have a point about the players not lining each other up the way they did in “the good old days.”

While most of the attention has been given to his diatribe against former enforcers speaking out against fighting, calling them “hypocrites” and “turncoats,” Cherry also took a shot during Coach’s Corner at Brendan Shanahan, the new senior vice-president of player safety and hockey operations, and his crackdown on illegal head hits.

Cherry asserted that because of the new regime’s heavy-handedness during the pre-season, hard-hitting hockey as we know it will go the way of the dodo bird; that players will stop hitting each other for fear of suspensions.

“I still think the game is real physical,” Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn said Saturday morning after the pre-game skate.

Schenn knows a little something about hitting. The soon-to-be 22-year-old led all NHL defencemen in hits last season with 251.

So while it seems unlikely hitting will disappear from the game, there is little doubt players might be a little tentative as they try to get used to the new rules.

“There’s no question. I think on every part of the ice, whether you’re down low in the corner or a guy’s cutting across the middle, it’s definitely on the players’ minds,” Schenn said.

“You want to keep your shoulders and your elbows down obviously, and stay away from the head, but I think it’s just a respect thing too, cause a lot of guys are getting hurt these days.

“I’m sure everyone is trying to figure it out between the referees, the players, the league, everyone is trying to find that fine line between what is legal and illegal,” he added.

To back up his assertions about hitting disappearing from the National Hockey League, Cherry showed clips from the first period of the Leafs-Canadiens game on Thursday, a period he called “the worst period of all time.”

“I’m going to show you the new NHL and I don’t blame the players,” Cherry said, before rolling clips of Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban missing a check on Leafs forward Phil Kessel in open ice and Leafs forward Jay Rosehill missing a check along the boards on Montreal winger Eric Cole.

Cherry asserted that those players “faked” the checks on purpose, not wanting to earn suspensions.

While Schenn expressed his respect for Cherry, the blue-liner took exception to the former player and coach saying players were faking hits.

“It was opening night, not everyone is in mid-season form to be making hits. We’re coming out of training camp where we didn’t hit all summer, so everyone is trying to get their timing down,” Schenn said.

Cherry went on to show clips of legendary heavy-hitter Scott Stevens laying out Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya (among others), hits that today clearly would be deemed illegal.

As the tape rolled, Cherry said: “Enjoy this folks, ’cause you’re never ever gonna see it again.”

But few would argue with Shanahan for trying to rid the game of the kind of debilitating hits that helped shorten the careers of Lindros and Kariya. Nor would they want hitting to completely disappear from the game.

“I still think there’s a ton of hits in the NHL, but there’s no question that it crosses your mind a split second before if a guy is in a vulnerable position, if his number’s facing you or his head is kind of out there where you can get a piece of it, I think you might think twice about it,” Schenn said.

And thinking twice about ending another player’s career probably isn’t a bad thing.


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