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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Youth hockey leaders watching the NHL leadership very closely

The National Hockey League General Managers’ have been meeting this week with a number of items on their annual agenda—but no issue is more important than “head shots”.

The league will be announcing, we assume, some form of crackdown on what many feel has become an epidemic. Most fans want to keep hockey’s physical element, but the speed of the game, combined with bigger athletes and bigger equipment is causing huge problems.

People can debate whether players have lost respect for one another, but regardless of whether that is an issue or not, leaders in youth hockey across Canada and the United States will no doubt be watching any NHL pronouncements on this contentious subject very closely.

I’m among those who believe strongly that steps need to be taken to eliminate a) hitting from behind and b) head shots.

Going back to the days of Howie Meeker, the former Maple Leaf player, coach and longtime TV analyst, hockey people have preached “finishing the check”. Players know they face repercussions from their coaches if they don’t, and we now have frightening injury “statistics”—real people getting hurt—and we have to stem the tide.

People will say hitting has always been a part of the game, and it has been and will be. But we know more now than we did we thirty, forty and fifty years ago about injuries and particularly concussions.

Let’s use that knowledge.

The game can remain physical, but we can also work to eliminate some of what has been allowed for too long.

Back in the ‘70s, hockey bench-clearing brawls were commonplace. The league finally took the problem seriously, and now you virtually never see that kind of thing.

We can achieve the same kind of thing now. We can keep the game fast and tough, but safe.

Ultimately, what the NHL does will hopefully help youth hockey.

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