SUN Hockey Pool

Player's death strikes chord with tough guys

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

The death of Whitby Dunlops defenceman Don Sanderson struck a chord in hockey tough guys everywhere.

Theirs is the hardest job in sports and they are all acutely aware of the risks they take every time they drop the gloves.

"It does go through your head, but at the same time we have a job to do and it's part of the game," said Oilers enforcer Steve MacIntyre, who's recovering from a broken orbital bone suffered in a fight with Eric Godard.

"A couple of my buddies had the same thing happen and fortunately they came through. It's just the way it is, it's the nature of the beast, you're going to get hurt,

"It's an accident, and accidents do happen. Heartfelt sympathies go out to the family, that's for sure. You have to go on and deal with it the best you can."

Sanderson, 21, died yesterday due to head trauma after his helmet came off in a fight during a senior game Dec. 12 in Brantford. He'd been in a coma ever since.

Though it is the first known incident of a player dying from a fight -- going back 100 years and tens of thousands of fights in all leagues -- a person still died in a hockey fight.

How and why needs to be examined.

Sanderson didn't take his helmet off on purpose, but countless players do, (especially in leagues with mandatory visors) thus increasing the risk of serious damage if their head hits the ice.

Leagues everywhere are re-examining their rules on removing helmets prior to a fight.

Craig MacTavish is in favour of trying to ban the practice in amateur and minor leagues.

"Why would you choose to take your helmet off at maybe the most dangerous point in the game?" he said.

"I believe it's not an NHL decision, it's a player's decision, he makes that call," said MacIntyre.

"I don't think it's anybody but the player's responsibility. I'd rather do that than have to fight a guy with a visor."

Dunlops president Steve Cardwell told The Canadian Press the fight wasn't particularly vicious.

"It didn't look like it was as bad as obviously this has turned out to be," Cardwell said.

"At the time, it looked like so many other fights that anybody connected with hockey would have watched over the last number of years."

Cardwell praised Sanderson as a fierce competitor and a valuable player with a big heart.

While he said his main concern is helping the family cope, he believes there needs to be closer look at the broader circumstances of Sanderson's death.

"Any time a tragedy like this happens -- and it could have been prevented by a number of rule changes, or the way helmets are made, or the way that they work -- that debate needs to happen," he said.

"Because if you lose just one life and you don't learn from it, then we're all making a big mistake."

League rules state that helmets approved by the Canadian Standards Association must be worn and fastened securely with a chin strap.


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