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The Monthly Hockey Headshot Debate Heats Up Again

Does anyone else find it ironic that just as we receive an update to the health of Kitchener Rangers forward Ben Fanelli, that yet another devastating hockey hit has taken place, with yet another player landing in the hospital for observation?

For those who don’t remember, Michael Liambas attempted to send Ben Fanelli head-first through the boards and in to the front row. OHL Commissioner David Branch suspended Liambas from the OHL. Forever. I was elated at that decision, as nobody that plays so recklessly deserves to play hockey at any level, much less earn a paycheck doing it. I had thought that Branch’s suspension would be message to other players in junior hockey that reckless hits would no longer be tolerated. I guess I was wrong.

On January 17th, Patrice Cormier decided to take batting practice on Mikael Tam’s head with his elbow. It represents the continuing trend of disgusting, disturbing hits that continues to make hockey look like a joke, and that continue to be excused. If you haven’t seen it, here it is (around the :24 second mark):

If that’s not malice in action, I don’t know what is.

The problem is, these types of hits to the head are happening more and more often at both the junior and NHL level.

Here’s a very short list of headshots from THIS SEASON ALONE:

Mike Richards on David Booth

Andrew Ladd on Matt D’Agostini

Michael Liambas on Ben Fanelli

Johnny Boychuk on Matt Stajan

There are certainly others out there that have taken place this season, these are simply the ones that I can recall from the top of my head.

The point of this article is not to discuss how dirty some of these hits are. It’s to point out that these are taking place much more often, and with much more violence than ever before. Some fall within the “rules” of the game, but I’ve long maintained that hockey needs to evolve. Tyler, of nhldigest also believes that a change needs to happen, but his main contention is that if the rules are called as they are written, and if equipment is made to protect instead of to injure, we’d be on the right track.

What doesn’t help is when a legend like Lou Lamoriello comes out and states that the Patrice Cormier hit is not suspension-worthy. Whether or not the headline is misleading (i.e. was the question to Lou about a season-ending suspension, or any suspension), the point is moot. This was a heinous offense by a repeat offender.

“”I’m not the judge or jury, but in my opinion no,” Lamoriello said when asked if he felt that was possible.

He also said he did not foresee legal action.

“Not in my opinion,” Lamoriello said.

What is he thinking? I don’t need to tell you how much power Lamoriello wields within NHL head offices, but it goes without saying that any change or evolution of the game would greatly benefit from his support.

Looked at from another angle, certainly the cost and time involved to play organized hockey these days has become prohibitive for many parents, but you also won’t have to go very far to find a parent who just won’t subject their child to the potential of having their brains scrambled. True, a kid could have his head smashed in football too. But in the NFL, you can’t breathe on a guy’s helmet without repercussions. Perhaps a little heavy-handed for a sport based on violence, but the last time I looked, the NFL was the model professional sport in North America. It’s far and away the biggest money maker and by far gets the most eyeballs.

There are a lot of dinosaurs out there that simply shrug and say that hockey is a fast-paced contact sport and if you don’t want to get hurt, don’t play. Mike Milbury comes to mind in this instance. Such flippant ignorance is half the problem. Hockey has changed so many times since it was first created late in the 19th century. It’s silly to think that it cannot or should change. Hockey is still dominated by Don Cherry’s Rock ‘em Sock ‘em culture, and while I don’t think Don Cherry is to blame, the evolution of the types of hits he has become rich while endorsing is what we are seeing today. Players are coached to “finish their checks”, and to “separate the man from the puck”. These are cornerstones of physical hockey, and are not likely to ever vanish. I don’t want to see the demise of physical, hardnosed hockey either but I also am fed up of seeing people being wheeled off on a stretcher and sent to the hospital.

If you want to make the argument that pros exchange their safety and their health for their obscene paychecks, go ahead. I disagree with that completely, but I’m also probably not going to dissuade you from your stance.

What do you think? Is there a way to get the message through to the players heads? Is there a ban or suspension long enough that will serve as a reminder to all players that they need to be responsible for their actions? Or have they been coached a certain way for so long, that it will be virtually impossible to eliminate without taking the hitting out of hockey?

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