On Saturday, Canada's national newspaper, The Globe & Mail, ran a provocative column by Roy MacGregor entitled, "Now is the time to save the game of hockey." The passage with the greatest stickiness might have been a long-ago Howie Meeker quote — "you absolutely cannot learn a skill in a violent atmosphere."
That went online a few hours after the Shawinigan Cataractes' Evan Scott, unfortunately for him and even more unfortunately for the Victoriaville Tigres' Michael Rhéaume, provided a perfect illustration of what MacGregor and Meeker were addressing. Rhéaume, an 18-year-old from Lévis, Que., made a nifty play to take a pass and zip the puck to Gabriel Gagné, who scored. The puck had already reached Gagné by the time Scott, who had been well behind the play, felled Rhéaume with a blindside check to the head.
Welcome to the season premiere of How Many Games Would That Get In The OHL? In the QMJHL, it only resulted in a two-game ban.
— steve turcotte (@steveturcotte) September 15, 2013
Sitting here and playing armchair quarterback, frame by frame, is beside the point. The crux of it is learned behaviour. It's understandable that Scott, as a rookie defenceman who had been caught up the ice, was trying to apply back pressure on the Tigres' attacking forwards. It's too easy to look at those six damning seconds and say, "Oh, he should have realized he was not going to be to make a clean check, based on his distance from the opponent and the angle."
Yet that is where hockey is; what MacGregor, the medical community and many others are driving at is that kind of play has to excised from the sport. The OHL has tried handing out stiff suspensions, but the behaviour needs to be learned well before the players reach major junior.
From the MacGregor column:
Murray Costello, the former NHLer who was head of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association and Hockey Canada for so many years, believes much of the needed change could happen instantly if the will were there.
“They could fix it overnight if they wanted to,” Costello says. “Just ban all hits to the head. Hockey is a ‘bodychecking’ game, not a ‘head-checking’ game.”
While longer suspensions are not necessarily a cure-all, it's better than doing nothing. Sitting Scott for two games is awfully lenient.
The league, by its own count, handed down 11 suspensions for illegal hits to the head last season. The longest was only five games. In contrast, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada's Steve Lebel missed more games as a result of unknowingly ingesting a banned stimulant. Each issue is important, sure, but come on, really? Getting players to read the label on an energy drink is more important than teaching respect for a fellow athlete?
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.