Friday, September 28, 2007


Okay people, let’s go over this one more time and then try to move along. The issue, intent to injure and blows to the head. Of course I am referring to the latest hubbub getting certain media types all wound up; the Downie hit on McAmmond. There seems to be quite the outcry for justice over this hit and the blame is being pointed at the league for not doing enough to ensure the overall safety of its players. While it is true that the league does a poor job in this matter, all the blame for this particular situation should not be laid at the league’s doorstep. If it was a case of intent to injure or an illegal hit to the head then the league should step in and levy a punishment. Instead what we have here is a total lack of respect amongst the players themselves.

One of the reasons that the league appears to not care about the safety of its players is that it must view each case independently and weigh all factors. The general public and the media have a knack for grouping all cases together when calling out the league for justice. It is down right idiotic to put this recent hit in the same group as hits like Bertuzzi/Moore and Simon/Hollweg; you just can’t do that people. Each and every situation is unique and must be treated as such by the league. So if you want or need to group the issues together for a big flag waving and outcry for justice then focus your attention away from the league and onto the players themselves. For this is where the problem lies.

For a moment let’s look at this case. Here we have Dean McAmmond coming around the back of the net (once again) with his head down admiring his play and putting himself in a prone position. We see Downie (no stranger to rough play) stop skating and start to glide at the top of the circle with McAmmond in his sights he goes in for the hit. At the point of collision, Downie leads with his shoulder not his elbow and absolutely destroys a prone McAmmond. It would appear that Downie left his feet as he gets almost vertical at the follow through from the hit, but in reality that is just forward momentum and impact reaction (much like a head on collision between two cars) that causes the flying effect. The damage to McAmmond appears to take place not at the point of contact with Downie, rather at the point of contact with the boards. Therefore, my assessment of this particular incident is it was a legal hit where unfortunately a player was hurt. With that said, I do believe that there was a lack of respect for McAmmond by Downie without a doubt. Downie had plenty of time to see that McAmmond was in a prone position and he made the decision to clean his clock instead of holding up and just sitting him on his ass. This is where the root of the problem takes place. The decision to disregard the health and well being of a fellow player by punishing him with extreme force is a definite league wide problem. One that the league should address, but most likely won’t.

Disregard for each other on the ice is as old as time and the players of today aren’t much different from the players of the past when it comes to lacking respect. One look into the history of the sport and you will find countless incidents where a total lack of respect for another player caused injury and a few that caused death. In the 1907 season Owen McCourt of the Cornwall, Ontario team died the following morning after he was clubbed in the head from the hockey stick of Charles Masson. In 1968 the league lost Bill Masterton as a result of being catapulted to the ice head first by a duo of Seals defensemen, which lead to more players wearing helmets. What was lost on the Masterton incident was the intent to injure imposed on him by his opponents. 1933 gave us Eddie Shore’s hit from behind on Ace Bailey that forced Bailey to never play again. The list goes on and on and I’m sure every hockey fan today can remember some sort of incident (Lemieux, McSorley, Simon, etc.) where a total lack of respect for another player has caused injury.

The only way for the league to put an end to this problem is to institute a rule clearly defining intent to injure and blows to the head under the punishment of fines and suspension. The only way the problem will go away is if the players themselves take an active roll in curbing their desire to destroy their opponent with blatant lack of respect and make a conscious decision to ensure the safety of fellow players.

Violence and hockey go hand and hand, always has and always will. You see, hockey is a tough sport and violence is just a part of it. It just so happens to be the part that brings fans to their feet and to the seats of the arenas. Many years ago Conn Smythe once said when critics of the violence in hockey were taking him to task “Yes, we’ve got to stamp out this sort of thing or people are going to keep on buying tickets.” Forever now, the league has accepted it, the players have accepted it and the fans have expected it. The problem will continue, injuries to players will continue and the media will continue its outcry for justice (most likely missing the point). Enough said.

No comments: