Sunday, November 7, 2010

Two Game Suspension For Joe Thornton Was Warranted...

(Dan4th/Flickr)
In dealing with the head shot and concussion issue in the NHL, the overwhelming sentiment is that it is time for a change of attitude by the league and amongst its players. Approximately 12 games into a new season, with a new rule on “blind-side” hits in place, we are still witnessing an alarming number of reckless plays resulting in head injuries.

I have said it before, I will say it again - a concussion is a brain injury; the long-term repercussions of a brain injury is not comparable to any other type of injury in sports. The league has suspended players in the past for knee-on-knee hits, after all, destroying an opponents knee could be career ending; completely scrambling an opponents brain, well, that’s not so bad apparently...

When I speak with current and former players, I always discuss the issue of concussions. It is an area of concern for me personally, as a sports columnist and sports fan, and it is a topic that is not going away any time soon. The main point they often stress is that very few players in any league are deliberately looking to end another player’s career. Hockey is a high-impact sport, injuries are part of the game, and they will occur on a regular basis. The fact remains though, if players are going to continue to target their opponent's head, then the league must step in; a “change of culture” is a phrase we have been hearing a lot lately.

Video of Joe Thornton's hit on David Perron

The two-game suspension handed down to San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton is appropriate. His hit on St. Louis Blues forward David Perron meets every criteria of the new rule. While I doubt that Thornton intended to cause serious injury, the fact remains, he did. The comments of his brother (who is also his agent), and the comments from the league when they upheld the suspension are what have me concerned and led to today's posting here at TVOS.

John Thornton made one valid point though - why did the league compare his brother’s hit to Nick Foligno’s hit on Patrick Dwyer, a hit that resulted in a $2,500 fine and no suspension. There is no doubt that the Foligno hit should have resulted in a similar two game suspension. When the league handed down a fine, they did set a dangerous precedent; one they could have avoided. It was early in the season - you want to send a message to the players that you will be tough on anyone that makes contact with an opponent’s head; there was your chance. Instead, the league continued with the “Wheel of Justice”, spinning the roulette wheel, where it lands, no one knows...

Video of Nick Foligno's hit on Patrick Dwyer

For the Thorntons to ask the league, “What could Joe have done differently?” and for the league to have no answer is beyond ridiculous... The answer is quite simple - do not hit Perron...

It is one thing to keep track of the players on the ice; to have someone step out of the penalty box, take several strides towards you, and deliver a check from seemingly out of nowhere is quite another story. What could Thornton have done differently? Well, he could have tried to get to Perron a second sooner and with the simple act of lifting his opponent's stick, steal the puck and create an odd-man rush in the other direction. Since Perron had already passed the puck, Thornton could have skated like hell towards his own zone and played some defence. After all, his team had just killed off his penalty; a line change would be forthcoming. To put it simply, the hit was unnecessary.

In Thornton’s defence, the hit on Perron has been legal for decades; it has been considered a good hockey play for over a century. However, with the knowledge and information we now have on brain injuries, these plays have to stop. We have witnessed the devastating effects of repeated head trauma in retired NFL players, wrestlers, and boxers; damage so severe it has led to suicides.

Think it will never happen in the hockey world... Think again...

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