Heading in the right direction

I’m not a particularly nervous person. I don’t get scared or nervous watching any of the hubs’ (regular season) games. I’ve seen him play about a bazillion times, and will hopefully get to watch another bazillion or so games. And, as you can guess, I go to watch the skill of the game, not the fights, hits or vicious penalties. I realize that some spectators think these actions spice up the game and have a hard time separating them from the hockey game package. But when you see what kind of lifelong impact these kinds of injuries can have on hockey players and their families, it’s hard to imagine them as entertainment. Now, that’s not to say that I cringe and squeal or bury my head in my hands when my husband is on the ice. That isn’t realistic, and I would probably bug the crap out of anyone sitting around me. But it does make me more conscientious of penalties, downed players and injuries, no matter the team involved.

It seems like more and more head injuries occur each year. Whether there really are more, or it is just that team doctors are better trained to recognize the signs of concussions, doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that life-altering injuries, those that damage the brain and not just the body, are something that should be taken seriously. And thankfully they finally are, at least by professional sports leagues, like hockey and football.

Brian McGratton and David Koci fight.

Brian McGratton and David Koci fight.

I get that fights and hits and bumps and bruises are fun for the crowd to watch. But if some people think that taking the rough checking and hitting out of the game, or at least severely punishing hits to the head, is going to be detrimental to the viewing factor, then maybe they weren’t seeing the true beauty in good hockey anyway. After all, games aren’t won by fights or risqué hits; they’re won by playing good defense, skillful skating, and scoring more goals than your opponent.

NHL penalties and suspensions, as well as those in other professional sports leagues, are becoming more and more harsh as the truth emerges on what lasting impact head injuries can have on players. It’s true that the big penalties and game suspensions are a still bit inconsistent at this point, but most things are when they are first implemented. Things have to change, it is as simple as that. Rules must be broadened, reexamined and amended in order to make player safety a priority. When tragedies arise and players with multiple concussions walk a fine line between life and death, action has to be taken. I’m happy with the changes the NHL is spearheading. And no matter how much protest or criticism they might receive, whether from inside or outside the league, officials know that they are doing will impact the lives of their players. It will, of course, be a matter of time before things are perfect. But I personally think a great thing is taking place right before our eyes.

Eric Lindros lays down on the ice unconscious after being blindsided by New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Stevens.

Eric Lindros lays down on the ice unconscious after being blindsided by New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Stevens.

As for our position in this matter, we are lucky over here in Europe. The game tends to be less physical than back in North America. I’m hoping that this will keep my husband’s mind clear and concussion free for as long as possible (knocking on wood as I write. Wouldn’t be a half-decent hockey wife without a whole lotta superstition). Less hits to his head and body means a healthier guy. That’s something I will be able to appreciate even after he hangs up the skates.

Call me biased, ’cause I am, or naive, but players, and their mental states, need to be protected above everything else. Even if that means that some people will think the level of play will subsequently be brought down – something I definitely don’t agree with. What it comes down to, is that this is just a game and just a job. He loves it, and so do I. But when we are 60 years old, I want him to remember the good times we had in Europe. I want him coherent and to easily recall everything we did when we were younger. I want him to be able to remember my name.

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