Head shots have no place in hockey.

February 15, 2011

No less than Mario Lemieux has spoken out on violence in the game of hockey. How many more injuries and entertaining (in the way a car crash might be) but embarrassing incidents like the recent Islander/Penguins dust up need to happen before the NHL takes any meaningful action? The place to start in all of this mess is to focus on getting head shots out of the game. They can cause life-long debilitating harm to the recipient. And the steady diet of head shots that young hockey-playing kids get watching their NHL heroes on TV has caused the head shot to be the latest tactic in minor hockey in this country.

The time for talk is over. The time for action is now. In a junior hockey league in southern Ontario last year, 25 per cent of the players sustained a concussion at some point during the season. That’s shocking! Worse still is that 90 per cent of those concussions were caused by INTENTIONAL blows to the head.

The solution to this problem is simple. If you want head shots out of the game, enforce a penalty that will truly discourage them. This would be somewhere in the range of an immediate game misconduct accompanied by a three-game suspension. The ditherers say it’s too difficult to discern the intentional blow to the head from the unintentional. I say remove the ambiguity and enforce strict liability when it comes to head shots. If you hit someone in the head, intentionally or not, you should receive a game misconduct and three-game suspension. Will this penalize some innocent victims? Yes, initially, but watch how quickly players will adjust their play and make the effort  they should to ensure that it is their shoulder on their opponents shoulder or chest and not on their opponents head when administering a body check. Penalizing a few innocent players is a small cost to pay for the health and safety of the players who are currently in the sight lines of players who don’t think about the consequences of their actions.

Let’s put public pressure on the NHL to take this action now. And, let’s demand community coaches address this issue with their players in every practice and in every pre-game speech. Just as the NHL should be held accountable for the rules and actions in their league, community coaches seem, for the most part, to be turning a blind eye to the problem and they also need to be held accountable for the actions of their young athletes.

Paul Melia