Today family, friends, teammates and fans will pay their last respects to former NHL enforcer Wade Belak who passed away this past week as he was found dead in a Toronto hotel room. The third death this simmer, as Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard also passed away this summer. Three young men all gone too soon. Let’s not forget about former players Bob Probert and Tom Cavanaugh who both passed away during this past season. While the exact reason for Belak’s passing has yet to be determined, four of these players lost their lives due to either substance abuse and or depression.
I have read and heard many comments over this past week about how difficult the role of enforcer actually is. Let’s keep this in perspective folks as well. I realize we’re talking about playing a game, however it appears that a serious problem has gone undetected, or at least has not been payed close attention to. Until now. The NHL and NHLPA has indicated strongly that they will review and institute programs to help players who need and want help. They also know that the concussion issue is of growing concern and is a problem that is getting their full attention as well.
Players are now being more vocal, or at least more open as I heard Phoenix Coyote forward and tough guy Paul Bissonnette interviewed on a Toronto radio station Friday and he spoke about the difficult role of an enforcer, and how depression, stress, and anxiety can creep into a player. To summarize his comments he spoke about the difficulty of playing four to five minutes a night. Short shifts that are spread out with long stretches waiting for your shoulder to be tapped. Thinking on the bench when am I playing, will I have to fight, and I hope I don’t make a mistake while I’m out there.
Sitting for these long stretches also causes some players to lose focus on the games. It’s a difficult role that not everyone can adjust to. Besides during the game thoughts, he brought up something that most people may not have ever thought of. The difficulty of getting a good night’s sleep the night before a game when you know your opponent has their own “heavyweight” that you will probably need to battle with. Sure, it’s their job, but still it wears you down. Bissonnette said that sometimes the thought of potentially knowing he may battle a particular player the next night caused him to have a restless night’s sleep.
The other side of this coin is the concussion situation that is getting worse. As my Rat Trick comrade Scott Mullin reported yesterday, word out of Boston is that Marc Savard will be out for this season and potentially for good due to concussion symptoms. Dave Scathard, and Paul Kariya have retired, and the future of Sidney Crosby hangs in the balance as well. While I’ve never been a fan of Sid, I am rooting for him to come back. The game needs its stars and the NHL is honestly a better place with them than without.
What do we know about these deaths and what effect concussions play in them, as well as the severity of shortening a players career? During an Inside Hockey Segment last October on a Hockey Night In Canada broadcast, Dr. Robert Cantu explains that one in four fights results in a concussion. The problem is that the player just goes to the penalty and doesn’t get checked out, then continues playing. Something needs to be done here as well.
What do you think?
Has the NHL taken the concussion dilemma seriously, and are they doing all they can to eliminate or penalize shots to the head?
Are the rules for blind side hits clear enough for both players and officials to understand clearly?
Fighting has always been part of hockey. It is the only sport that actually allows it, even though you’re penalized after. I don’t think you can or should eliminate fighting altogether, but how does the NHL control or eliminate the “staged” fight?
Do we abolish the instigator rule and let the players handle things themselves?
We all have a lot of questions. We want some answers. We also want to stop losing our players both to injury, as well as death.
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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