Now that didn’t take long.
The NHL is less than a month into it’s 2009-2010 schedule and already the debate over hitting is heating up.
The hit sparking the most debate right now is Philadelphia’s Mike Richards’ devastating check of Florida’s David Booth that left him unconscious on the ice before he was carted away.
At the time Richards was heavily penalized, levied a five-minute major for interference plus a game misconduct.
The league, however, decided upon review that no further suspension was justified.
Of course, this decision has drawn a chorus of cat calls from critics, decrying that once again the league is going light on disciplining one of their star players.
I, on the other hand, applaud the league’s decision.
It was a clean hit, plain and simple, and Richards didn’t deserve the initial penalty he was hit with.
I’ve watched the play probably a couple of dozen times on YouTube at regular speed and breaking it down frame-by-frame.
Richards doesn’t jump into him, doesn’t even pop his shoulder at the point of impact.
Richards also glides through Booth, he’s not striding from half way across the ice. The contact was all shoulder.
Scott Stevens would have been proud. He made a career of those hits.
The problem on the hit comes when Booth is caught, even just for an instant, admiring a drop pass — the interference call was bogus, I defy anyone to sneak even one steamboat in from the time the pass was made to the time when Richards hit Booth.
Now I don’t think the hit was at all avoidable – the devastation of the hit was.
Booth was in a bad spot, but he has to be aware of where he was — in a high traffic area going through the middle of the ice. You have to keep your head on a swivel.
In our society it is always easier to blame the aggressor over the victim, and almost always that is the common sense approach.
But sometimes the victim has to take responsibility for the way he plays and the position he puts himself in.
No I am not saying Booth should be suspended or penalized, but he has paid the price for not being aware on the ice.
It is similar to Brandon Sutter last year in his rookie season with the Carolina Hurricanes when he was crushed by the New York Islanders’ Doug Weight, hardly the head hunter.
He was caught reaching for the puck in the neutral zone, put himself in a bad position at the last moment, but Weight had him in the trolley tracks.
Chicago’s Jonathan Toews understands this. He was hammered by Vancouver’s Willie Mitchell while accepting a suicide pass through the neutral zone a couple of weeks ago and then was so woozy he stumbled while trying to get off the ice. According to TSN’s Pierre McGuire the first thing he said when he got to the bench was “[expletive] I had my head down.”
I don’t like seeing players get wheeled off the ice on a stretcher, no one does, but we have to remember that hockey is a contact sport and, especially at the professional level, the risks of injury within the game are assumed.
It is part of the reason why they are paid obscene amounts of money.
It’s easy to be two-faced on this topic.
As a nation we take a certain amount of pride in producing the big, tough physical players, especially those like Richards who have high-end skill.
They play the ‘Canadian game’.
It is why a guy like Alex Ovechkin has become one of the few Russians to actually ascend to being one of the most popular players in the game, and really rise above the likes of a Sidney Crosby.
That is until a big hit that 10 years ago would have been celebrated now gets the bleeding hearts worked up in a lather.
Hitting is part of the game.
It’s more than about just trying to injure another player, in fact it is almost never about trying to injure another player. It is tactical. It’s about creating momentum. It is about defending your territory. And yes, it is about intimidation.
Some levels of hockey have implemented a zero tolerance policy on hits to the head.
The NHL hasn’t, and until they do Richards’ hit was 100 per cent clean.
And I glumly look towards the day when it won’t be.