For more than a few years now, there’s been calls for the National Hockey League to adopt the policy of “no-touch” icing, thus reducing the risk of serious injury to players.
On September 30th, 2011, in a preseason game between the Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild, Oilers prospect defenseman Taylor Fedun suffered a season ending leg injury (broken femur) after falling awkwardly into the end-boards when knocked off stride by Wild forward Eric Nystrom as they pursued the puck. Fedun was trying to touch the puck to bring about an icing call, Nystrom to nullify the call.
Had the “no-touch” or “automatic” icing rule been in place, the play would’ve been whistled dead as soon as the puck reached the goal line. There wouldn’t have been any need for a race between Fedun and Nystrom. The former wouldn’t have been injured, and the latter wouldn’t have felt guilty about it, and certainly wouldn’t have been harassed by irate Oilers fans on Twitter.
Traditionalists within the NHL have argued against the implementation of “no-touch” icing, suggesting it would remove an exciting element from the game.
The problem with that argument, however, is that rarely is a game determined by the outcome of such dangerous races for the puck, and is too brief a moment to merit much remembrance from fans.
One almost never hears fans exclaiming one of the most memorable parts was a race for a loose puck which negated an icing call, unless of course, a player gets seriously hurt.
While the frequency of injury resulting from “touch” icing is low, they are nevertheless often quite serious, sometimes horrifically so.
Pat Peake was a promising young forward with the Washington Capitals in 1996 when, during a playoff game, he crashed into the endboards attempting to nullify an icing call. Peake suffered a career-ending foot injury as a result.
That was enough to make a convert of “no-touch icing” of Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry, who is as staunch a hockey traditionalist as you’ll see, but after seeing Peake’s career ended, Cherry called for the NHL to adopt the no-touch icing rule.
Every season since, on his “Coach’s Corner” segment on HniC, Cherryhas called for this rule change, but the league continues to either turn a deaf ear or drag its feet addressing the subject.
Meanwhile, the injuries resulting from the current rule have continued.
Al MacInnis, Glen Wesley, Mark Tinordi, Marty Reasoner, Marco Sturm, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Kurtis Foster are among those who’ve suffered serious injury over the years because of the league’s stubborn refusal to change its icing rule.
Other leagues, especially those in Europe, have used automatic icing for many years now, and it hasn’t adversely affected their game.
The IIHF adopted the rule following the death in 1990 of Czech player Ludek Cajka, who crashed head first into the boards rushing for the puck in an icing situation.
One shudders to think it would take something this extreme to force the close-minded traditionalists within the NHL to finally see the sense of “no-touch” icing.
Fedun’s injury, however, could finally become the tipping point that forces change.
Following the Oilers-Wild game, Fedun’s teammates Taylor Hall and Ryan Whitney went to Twitter to call for immediate change to the icing rule. In an interview with Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun, Cherry once again took the league to task, and Foster also called for the league to change the rule, as did Jones in summing up his column.
This isn’t about robbing the game of excitement. Touch icing is not what brings the fans to the games, and the quality of the NHL product won’t suffer by its absence.
It’s a safety issue, and high time the NHL finally addressed it.
The league was quick to move this summer to adopt changes to the arena glass following the scary season-ending injury to Montreal’s Max Pacioretty after he was checked into a glass partition by Boston’s Zdeno Chara.
Surely, the NHL brain trust isn’t insinuating Fedun’s injury wasn’t serious enough to merit a rule change by its continued silence on the matter?
We don’t need to see a player paralyzed or killed because some in positions of authority within the league are stupidly stubborn. This is a rule which can be easily implemented, without any adverse affect to the flow of the game or its physicality, and will go a long way toward preventing more season-ending injuries like the one suffered by Fedun.
The NHL cannot continue to justify its position. “No-touch” icing must be implemented, and must be done as soon as possible. Not next season. Not in five seasons. Not following months of experimentation or an exploratory committee.
It must be done right now.