The never ending incidents of on ice-thuggery, including hits to the head, a recent one involving QMJHL star Patrice Cormier, along with other factors including body checking in minor hockey, has turned hockey into our most dangerous game. These horrible incidents smack of everything that is wrong with hockey in our country: poor leadership; elitist and exclusionary, lofty and unrealistic expectations; overzealous coaches and parents and no fun and recreational benefits for the players.
The consequences of traumatic hits to the head speak for themselves. Research by Dr. Shree Bhalerao, director, medical psychiatry, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto and Deborah Pink, resident in psychiatry, University of Toronto has found that hockey-related brain injuries, via hits to the head or bodies colliding against the boards or other bodies, can cause post-concussive symptoms, cognitive disorders, depression, personality changes and substance abuse.
Far, far to many Canadians are willing and ready to blame this thuggery solely on the NHL, and its apparent apathy to the problem. A disproportionately large part of the blame resides with the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and Hockey Canada!
Hockey is an inherently dangerous game. Violence degrades the world’s fastest, most physically challenging and most highly skilled game. Hockey is not, and has never been, a law of its own. And contrary to what proponents claim, violence, including fighting, has never been an integral part of the game. Fighting is banned in minor hockey in this country, college hockey in both the U.S. and Canada, in the European leagues, in the Olympics, and in all international play. Banning fighting in all leagues, including the CHL, would unquestionably reduce the number of violent incidents and would greatly add to the skill level of the game, by eliminating marginal players in favour of skilled talent.
The sad and harsh reality is that violence in hockey has been an integral part of the game as long as Hockey Canada and its predecessor organization, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, have been in existence. It is easily argued Hockey Canada, through its relationship with the CHL, has been a willing participant in promoting and condoning violence in hockey for years. A case in point! Patrice Cormier should have been, according to IIHF rules, thrown out of the recent World Junior Championship (WJC) for his violent hit on a Swedish player in an exhibition game leading up to that tournament. Unfortunately, this rule was not enforced. Hockey Canada, regardless of the IIHF, should have taken the initiative and expelled Cormier from tournament play. On an issue of safety, civility, and commonsense, it failed the test. For Hockey Canada, it’s called winning at all costs.
Hockey Canada, a publically funded organization, and the CHL, most of whose member teams play in municipally owned buildings and which sells/promotes its product as “family entertainment”, have long dodged this public health and safety problem. It is time for them to take their heads out of the sand and deal with this nightmare. The ball is in their court. Are they up to the challenge?
Public Health & Safety Advocate,
Past President, Canadian Safety Council
Note: The author played (albeit many years ago) major junior hockey at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto and collegiate hockey at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. He has been a long time advocate for greater safety in all sports. His son Christopher, played college hockey at Providence College in Rhode Island, was a member of the 1994 Canadian Olympic hockey team and played many years in the NHL.