As much as the National Hockey League is imploring its players to stop knocking each other silly with hits to the head, it's not something players easily can cut out of the game.
Take the Boston Bruins' Milan Lucic, for example. At 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds, Lucic, in his second year in the NHL, has conjured memories of Cam Neely, the Hall-of-Fame winger who used to crash into people when he was not scoring goals.
Lucic read the memo posted in each NHL dressing room by the league last Friday regarding hits to the head.
"You don't want to hit guys in the head and you don't want to see guys get hurt," Lucic said yesterday prior to the Bruins' game last night against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. "(But) as much as it is the hitter, it's the guys getting hit, too. It's his responsibility, too. I'm not going to change the way I am going to play."
In the memo, the NHL said it will not tolerate blows to the head that are deliberate, avoidable and illegal. Players were warned by the league that the length of suspensions for blows to the head will be increased of the incidents keep happening. But there is such a fine line in a game that is played at a high speed, and what may appear to be avoidable might not be.
"You try to finish your checks and, unfortunately, some times you hit a guy in the head," Lucic said. "Last year, there was an incident with me where (Bryan) Berard hit me clean and caught me in the head, and I had no problem with it because it was clean. You just don't want to see guys get dirty."
The New York Islanders' Thomas Pock was suspended five games last week for elbowing Ryan Shannon of the Ottawa Senators in the head. Maple Leafs defenceman Mike Van Ryn recently suffered a concussion, broken nose and other injuries when he was hit from behind into the boards by the Montreal Canadiens' Tom Kostopoulos.
What is certain is that the issue will get plenty of talk during NHL Players' Association meetings next summer, if not before. Matt Stajan, the Leafs' rep with the NHLPA, said the respect is there between players when they are all sitting in the same room.
"But there is always going to be incidents where things are going to happen," Stajan said. "Guys just have to be a little more careful. Last year, the big thing was icing, laying off guys, and not running guys.
"The only guys who can change (hits to the head) are the guys who are playing. It's in our control."