SUN Hockey Pool

Heady thinking needed on hits

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

Make a big splash. Get noticed. Make a name for yourself and capitalize on it.

It's not a hockey thing.

It's a life thing.

It's not the culture of hockey that needs to change in order to eliminate unnecessary and avoidable injuries. It's the way kids are parented, schooled and, ultimately, coached.

There needs to be more respect. Players, and people in general, need to find their way back to the idea of doing to others what you'd expect to be done to you.

Debating hits to the head in hockey has become an annual tradition. And it returns to Calgary following Flames winger Curtis Glencross' hit on New York Rangers veteran Chris Drury in the opening minute of Saturday's game at the Saddledome.

Glencross received a three-game suspension for it Monday from a league that has been anything but consistent on its head-shot rulings.

Philly's Mike Richards wasn't penalized for a much more vicious hit on Florida's David Booth -- another blindside ramming that led to a concussion.

Suspending Glencross is the right thing to do, even though his actions were never intended to injure.

Blaming someone for having their head down is easy.

Blaming the guy who punishes them for it with a hit they would never want to receive if they found themselves in that same vulnerable position rarely happens anymore.

The topic nearly netted its first fatality in an Ontario Hockey League game a week ago, when Kitchener Rangers defenceman Ben Fanelli suffered skull and facial fractures after taking a heavy hit against the boards from Erie Otters forward Michael Liambas.

No longer sickened by such things, people -- even those who have never seen a hockey game their entire life -- flock to sites like YouTube to catch the latest violent incident captured on video.

Like a life that's moved gradually from the Model T to the Ferrari and from dial-up to wireless, hockey's players are sleeker, faster and more dangerous than ever.

Expectations are to finish every hit and make the enemy pay for every inch of ice. It's that innocent-sounding philosophy that led to Glencross connecting with a puck-less Drury as the Flames winger tried to bring back some of the grit missing from his game.

And the fans eat it up.

Glencross' impact was minimal -- although you'd have a hard time convincing Drury of that -- but things are at a point now where the results can be devastating. No one holds back when they see a player skating up-ice with their head down or see the numbers on the back of a jersey as they battle for a puck along the boards.

They see an opportunity -- to make that splash, to get a clip on YouTube and to hit the highlight reels of every sports station across North America.

According to the rules of the game that have -- aside from a few -- been changed to allow these athletes to gather even more speed when they slam into one another, the hits are often legal by definition.

As NHL GMs discuss the issue this week, they should remember this game used to be about the puck.

A hit meant to separate a player from the six-ounce disc of vulcanized rubber is fine.

One intended to separate a player's head from his neck ... not so much.

No one wants to see hitting taken out, but there have to be clear-cut guidelines defining what is OK and what isn't.

And if someone disobeys, make sure they're punished regardless of their salary, star status or history.

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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