John Garrett: Solving the headache

How can hits to the head be eliminated?

Monday, 03.11.2008 / 6:18 PM / Features
By John Garrett
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John Garrett: Solving the headache
Most of my friends say I have been hit in the head one too many times.

As an old goalie I have had my nose broken at least three or four times and taken numerous blows to the head that have required multiple stitches - not to mention a couple of eye injuries - and that was with my mask on.

Naturally I also have teeth that I can take out to brush, but 95 percent of hockey players can say that.

Every goaltender understands that by trying to stop the puck you are going to get hit. It is part of the game. Every player knows that it is a physical game and you are going to get hit.

It is, however, not part of the game to target your opponent’s head. Every week there’s another player out of action because of a head shot, and far too often these hits go un-penalized.

INSIDE THE BOX
John Garrett is a former Canuck and currently the colour commentator for Sportsnet.


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I do not know why, but this has become the culture of the NHL. When did this happen? Good questions. It didn’t used to be that way.

Now, I’m not advocating an NBA-esque pre-game ritual where players delay the opening tip-off so they can work their way through the opposing line-up in a hug-fest that resembles Norman Rockwell family reunion. BUT, when a hockey player has their opponent lined up in the neutral zone, and instead of going shoulder to shoulder they go high for the head, there’s a problem. It’s a matter of respect.

Or is it – as some say - a product of new and better equipment?

Players grow up encased in protective armour that would put most bomb squads to shame. They’re protected head to toe. They wear full face shields, reinforced shoulder pads and concrete-hard elbow pads. It is the safest way for children to play. You have to protect them from falling down and bumping their heads. You have to shield their faces from accidental errant sticks.

The problem at the NHL level is the players are too big, too fast.

Collisions are proportionately more violent at 220 lbs. as opposed to 100 lbs. The question is how can you keep the physical aspect of the game, and lessen the danger of injury.

The league and the players association have to get more involved and get this problem under control. I don’t think this impossible.

Bottom line: Hits to the heads should not be tolerated and should be penalized. Make a move to hit the head, and the player should be penalized. They should be conditioned to keep their sticks and elbows down. The league has targeted hooking and interference and should do the same thing with shots to the head.

Every game has at least two or three hooking penalties called whenever a player get his stick parallel to the ice and makes contact. The arms go up automatically. The same thing could be done with high hits. It wouldn’t take long for the players to catch on.

Doug Weight's hit on Brandon Sutter is a perfect example. Was it a dirty hit? Not really. Was it an unnecessary hit? Absolutely! Doug Weight has been around forever and is not noted as a cheap player, yet he thought nothing of going high on a vulnerable opponent.

There has to come a time when the rules protect the players without compromising the integrity and quality of the game. This is a problem that can be solved.