Wilson weighs in on 'train-wreck hits'

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:24 PM ET

TORONTO - Ron Wilson doesn’t have a loud voice when it comes to making rule changes in the National Hockey League, but the Maple Leafs coach has a keen idea of what he would do if he wielded power for a day.

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke continued to demonstrate he is not smart enough to let the issue of dirty hits die, and his latest act of careless stupidity, an elbow to the head of Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers on Sunday, resulted in a hefty suspension. The National Hockey League announced late on Monday afternoon that Cooke, a repeat offender, is gone for the Penguins’ final 10 games of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. So Cooke is looking at no fewer than 14 games and no more than 17. Good.

Because Cooke again put himself ahead of his team (including concussed Penguins captain Sidney Crosby) against the Rangers, his reckless elbow was a topic of conversation in the Leafs locker room following practice on at the MasterCard Centre.

Wilson was strong on the matter, and made a solid point — Cooke’s hit had nothing to do with the increased speed of the game. But speed usually is a factor in punishable hits, and Wilson wondered aloud what could be done to lower the pace, even just a bit.

“I think there are some situations where we have to figure out how to slow the game down, whether it is little hold-ups, or my own would be allowing the goaltender to play the puck a little more than he is now,” Wilson said. “It might take some of the stress off the defencemen. I hate seeing all those rimmed pucks (around the boards). Get the pucks off the boards, and there would not be as many hits from behind.”

Wilson was not beating the drum for a return to the drudgery that was the NHL game prior to the lockout that wiped away the 2004-05 season.

“You just have to be careful you don’t go back and take the game to where it was, when it was slow and there was a lot of interference,” Wilson said. “I don’t have the perfect answer, but there are a lot of train-wreck hits out there that beget further hitting on the ice. Slowing the game down a bit might help.”

What it wouldn’t help is erasing from the game dirty players such as Cooke, who might want to think about hiring bodyguards for the next NHL Players’ Association meeting.

No Leafs came right out and said it on Monday, but given the stance of Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, some had to be incredulous at Cooke’s cheap shot, no matter the player’s history.

“You look at that hit, and it is exactly what we are saying has got to come out of the game,” captain Dion Phaneuf said. “It’s a fast game, but it’s not the kind of hit we like to see.”

Tim Brent’s perspective on the Cooke incident is a bit different than those of his Leafs teammates. Brent and Cooke were not teammates in Pittsburgh, missing each other by one off-season, but Brent, of course, got to know Lemieux.

“He stood up for his players and said the league has to do something about it because there was no need for the things that happened,” Brent said. “He has to stand by his word and make his own players accountable at the same time.”

The sore point for Brent, and hundreds of NHL players like him who would not think of taking reckless cheap shots at fellow union members?

“I would just like something (positive) to happen so we can stop talking about it,” Brent said. “It seems to be taking over the game right now. It’s all everybody is ever talking about. Our game is too great a game to have something like that take it over.”


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