Tuesday, October 04, 2011


National Hockey League 2011-2012

In a matter of days, they are going to drop the puck to initiate another season of the National Hockey League. There is another team playing out of Canada this year. The Atlanta franchise was shifted to Winnipeg, and the game will be the better because of the change.

There are a few clouds hovering over this year’s season. The fraternity lost three former players in the off season, in tragic circumstances. They were all rugged players, and played the game intensely. They had taken their share of bruises, and bumps to the head, over the years.

In order to continue playing, they, like most other players, also took medication to get by. Not all of it was prescribed. At times, it may have been mixed with a little hot toddy. In some cases, the players suffered from depression. With all of this in mind, these three players died this past summer, perhaps unnecessarily.

Then again, as I have stated on more than one occasion, the human mind is a very fragile instrument. We certainly do not know all of the factors that may have contributed to their deaths.

Another tragic situation in the off season took place when a Russian air liner crashed in Russia. An entire hockey team lost their lives in that accident, including several former NHL players.

As the season is about to begin, controversy swirls around the fact that several players have been seriously affected by blows to the head. These blows come from fists, elbows, and shoulders, for the most part. They are not always intended to injure an opponent. Over the years, head checks became part of the game.

All that is about to change. There may be a period of adjustment, when referees, and management overreact to the situation. The league has chosen Brendan Shanahan, a former player, to adjudicate in these circumstances. He has been anointed to be the judge and jury in dishing out penalties for blows to the head.

“Shanny” knows the game well. He finished his career recently, and he played the game hard. He knows his mandate is to cut down on the number of hits to the head, in order to keep players in the game. A couple of years ago, a kid from the Maritimes entered the league with plenty of fanfare. His name is Sidney Crosby, and he has lived up to the expectations, even exceeded them.

But he took a couple of hard knocks on the head, and he will not start this season. He missed several games with the Penguins last year, seriously affecting their chances to win the Cup. He is also a marquis player in the league, and puts bums in the seats wherever he plays. When he sits in the press box, the Penguins are not the team they would be otherwise.

For many years, I have been advocating a partial solution to this crisis: build rinks with larger ice surfaces. Belleville got it right when they built the Sports Centre with Olympic-size ice. Players are much larger now than they were when the rinks were first designed. They need more space.

Secondly, players wear gladiatorial equipment. The league should insist on leather shoulder and elbow pads. The current materials used can and do cause serious injuries.

Thirdly, players who fake serious injuries when they are not hit in the head should pay a price. In a recent game, a player threw up his hands as if he had been shot with a howitzer. He had been grazed only slightly. We cannot allow the game to be abused in a manner like the beautiful game. No Academy Award performances allowed! Suspend the actors too!

Finally, always remember the game is played with sticks. They are quite hard. It hurts when you get hit with them. Players hit each other all game long. Occasionally, players let opponents know when enough is enough. They drop their gloves. No big deal. Part of the game, as it should be.

Game On!

October 3, 2011

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