Fighters don’t prevent injuries 

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author:  konstantin kharitonov | sports editor


Who needs their head, anyway? / pixabay

Why players should not be policing themselves on the ice

When I first saw the Mike Matheson hit/body slam on Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson back on Oct. 13, 2018, in a game including the Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks, it immediately struck me as an illegal play that should be penalized. Pettersson was hurt and looked visibly shaken up, needing assistance to even stand and head to the bench. Miraculously, Matheson avoided receiving any penalties on the ice. He didn’t fully avoid repercussion, as he was slapped with a two-game suspension three days later.  

It’s a fair punishment, in my eyes, for a player who basically body slammed an opponent onto the ice, concussing them after they embarrassed them with skill. For the most part, the general consensus is that what Matheson did was wrong and that his suspension is fair (he did receive death threats from Vancouver fans, but what else is new. Yet, there still is so much bickering about the hit, and it is for arguably the dumbest reason possible.  

When the hit occurred in the third period of the game, the Canucks were up 3-2, trying to hold onto their lead for dear life. As such, there were no players that went up to Matheson and started throwing punches like a lot of fans expected. In turn, there was a huge uproar on social media saying that the Canucks are soft and that they are weak for not standing up for their rookies. There was a vocal minority screaming from the heavens that the Canucks should get their revenge against the Panthers in their next game.  

Okay look. I get it. I understand that Matheson concussed the best player in Canucks history since the Sedins, and that there was no immediate penalty on the ice for the dirty hit. However, the suggestion that starting a brawl immediately after the hit was already laid out would have somehow prevented the hit, is just flat out stupid. How is creating more injuries going to help Pettersson not get concussed?  

The common theory is that by having a hard-to-play-against team with gritty face punchers that police opposing teams are long gone. The NHL had a period where the players police the game themselves in the ‘80s and ‘90s, which did not eliminate dirty hits in the slightest. In fact, a fight that happens in result of a dirty hit is never going to prevent a dirty hit from happening. Those hits are impossible to avoid by just throwing more punches.  

Travis Green, head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, was extremely angry with the hit, calling it dirty and dangerous, but even he understands that his team retaliation is unnecessary and pointless. 

“We won the game,” Green said in a press conference after the game. “I’m not going to comment on retribution or anything like that.” 

“I didn’t want my players chasing around a guy when we have a 3-2 lead in the third.” 

In a tweet responding to Green’s comments, it was filled with criticism of his player’s inaction. “Apparently it’s open season on the Canucks rookie superstar,” said one reply. “The team needs a damn spine,” said another. 

Yet the deed was already done. The hit already happened. Even if the Canucks have goons that started face-punching Matheson immediately, Pettersson was already concussed.  

Let’s look back to an earlier hit in the season, where retaliation actually did happen. In the Canucks first game of the season, Canucks defenceman Erik Gudbranson laid out a dirty hit on Calgary Flames rookie Dillon Dube and right after fellow teammate Travis Hamonic skated right toward Gudbranson and proceeds to fight him. The fight leads to Hamonic getting facial fractures and he is still currently on the injured reserve for the Flames. As a result, the Flames not only had their rookie receive a dirty hit, but also one of their own players out for a month because of a retaliatory fight. After the game was over, Gudbranson seemed to be annoyed by the response from Hamonic.  

“I apologized to the kid and said, ‘That was a bad hit.’ But at the same time, they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do. I don’t want to say I’m OK with it, but if need be, it’s something I’ve dealt with before.” 

So, you maybe thinking, “Well Mr. Smartypants, what’s your solution?” Well, its not going to be easy and its not going to be foolproof. No matter what anyone does, dirty hits will always happen, regardless of suspensions or players sticking up for each other. 

That said, I am in favour of harsher suspension, because then offenders miss more time and get hit with heftier fines. If there is any way to maybe scare a player into not throwing a dirty hit is going to be a longer time away from the rink. And I am talking much longer penalties. Like, 20 games being the new norm for a dirty hit. Make sure that players know that they can be gone for a very long time if they even think about throwing an elbow to a player’s head. 

But that is never going to happen, so we are left with some teams accepting their reality with their star players getting hit, and delusional fans calling them too soft for it. 

Imagine if in any other profession, you were able to just start beating the hell out of a rival company’s associate after they did something you didn’t like. You would get arrested for assault, not cheered on by the public for your “bravery.”  

Hockey, what a sport.  

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