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Does hockey need ‘warning track’ to prevent devastating injuries?

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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An outfielder runs full-speed to catch a fly ball hit towards the centerfield wall. Suddenly, the grass gives way to dirt under his feet, triggering a response in his mind: ‘Hey, slow down, because after the warning track comes the collision.’ 

The warning track in baseball is for the benefit of players speeding into the wall.

Thomas Smith hopes it has the same effect in hockey, preventing catastrophic injuries along the boards on hits.

Smith spent 27 months in a wheelchair and remains partially paralyzed after being tripped into the boards at 20 years old. Five years later, he’s championing “The Look-Up Line”: a 40-inch orange “warning track” along the boards that would help puck carriers and the players that would hit them know they’re in a dangerous area.

(As you can see from the image here, it looks like a thousand kids wiped Cheetoos dust from their fingers along the ice.)

From the official site for the “Look-Up Line,” here are its benefits:

1. Warn players to keep their heads up to prevent head and neck injuries.

2. Warn players to be careful not to body check (contact) opposing players from behind.

3. Allow players time to make proper bodily adjustments before hitting the boards.

4. Alleviate the failure to warn (board related) issue that currently exists in hockey.

5. Remind on ice coaches and officials to continue to warn players about safety in hockey.

Smith says it’ll be in 225 rinks around the U.S. this season. Here's a rather long video detailing how the line can be added to your rink:

From Kevin Allen of USA Today, who told Smith’s story, the reaction from USA Hockey is wait-and-see:

"We are interested in any idea that can improve the health and safety of our hockey community, and this is a very intriguing safety measure," said Michael Stuart, USA Hockey's chief medical officer. "The way to look at it is: It may seem ingenious, but we need to study it to demonstrate it is actually effective."

USA Hockey has appointed a task force. "It's been compared to a warning track in baseball," Stuart said. "But there is a difference because there is also a tactile response in baseball. A player can tell he is running from grass onto cinder or whatever a warning track is made out of. But again, it's a wonderful idea and needs to be researched."

It’s always a little depressing to think that we need bright orange lines and stop signs on the backs of jerseys to prevent skaters from bludgeoning each other along the boards, but obviously anything that prevents these injuries is a positive thing.

From a gameplay perspective, however … would referees use this as a guideline for reckless hits? 

Smith tells Allen that there’s no desire to use the line to create a no-hitting zone, but it’s not hard to believe it could be an unintended consequence. But that’s a manageable fallout from what could be an invention that keeps other players from career-ending hits.

Much more here from Allen.

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