Hard, clean bodychecks in the first week of this NHL season disprove the myth a crackdown on headshots would take hitting out of the game.
As the National Hockey League in recent years lurched toward a purposeful crackdown on targeted hits to players’ heads, critics like Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry and Mike Milbury voiced concern the policy might eventually take body-checking completely out of the game.
In his season-opening “Coach’s Corner” on October 6, Cherry claimed players were looking for excuses not to hit, and the league’s new enforcement of Rule 48 would result in less hitting, even going so far as to claim two players in the October 6th Montreal-Toronto game missed hits on purpose because of the rule.
Just over a week later, however, it’s apparent the fears and criticisms were baseless. Hitting is alive and well in the “new” NHL.
Check out the following examples from the opening week of this season:
Dallas’ Jamie Benn checked Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson through the glass.
Boston’s Johnny Boychuk drilled Carolina’s Eric Staal with a solid, open-ice hit.
Ottawa’s Chris Neil welcomed back old teammate Dany Heatley with an open-ice check.
Winnipeg’s Mark Stuart bowled over Montreal Brian Gionta.
Colorado’s Ryan O’Byrne flattened Boston’s Zdeno Chara. No, that’s not a typo or misprint, O’Byrne flattened Chara.
In the same game, Colorado’s Ryan Wilson laid out Boston’s Tyler Seguin.
And perhaps the most notable hit of the NHL’s first week, Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf levelled Ottawa Senators rookie Stephane da Costa with an open ice hit.
All were clean hits, none of the recipients of these checks suffered any injuries, and all continued to play.
None of the hitters laid off or eased up prior to contact, none targeted their opponent’s heads, and all made shoulder contact with other parts of their opponent’s upper bodies. None were blindside hits, and every one were textbook examples of good, clean, hard bodychecks.
Those who worry about the “pansification” or “sissification” of the NHL product, or claim players won’t hit if they’re given an excuse not to because of the strict enforcement of Rule 48, are going to have to rethink their positions.
NHL players aren’t stupid. They want hitting in the game, but they also want clear guidelines of what’s acceptable and what’s not.
NHL head of player safety Brendan Shanahan has already produced videos highlighting acceptable methods for bodychecking. He could also include the videos of the aforementioned hits if he feels the players need further clarification.
Those who predict the NHL wants to take hitting out of the game are crying wolf. Good, clean bodychecking will always remain in the sport.
The league, led by Shanahan, wants to eliminate the dangerous targeted head shots and blindside hits, and educate its players on becoming better, safer bodycheckers. Doing so won’t diminish the entertainment value of the product.
Judging by those hits from the NHL’s opening week, the message is getting through.