Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Winds Of Change

As the New York Ranger prospects enjoy a well deserved day off on Monday; it gives us a chance to share an email from the Western Hockey League.

If you were waiting for the NHL to take the league and change the rules to better protect their players then we suggest that you do not hold your breath waiting for it to happen.

Change is coming to hockey but it will start with the Canadian Junior Leagues and sadly not the NHL where it should be coming from. The NHL is the leader in hockey really only in their imagination as they are typically the last ones to adapt to changes within the game.

Back in June the WHL took what we believe was the first real steps towards doing a better of reducing blows to the head and concussions. What the WHL did was come up with what they call their "Seven Point Plan" where the hope is it will reduce blows to the head and concussions.

Tuesday in Calgary, all 22 general managers as well as all 22 coaches of the Western Hockey League teams will gather for a seminar where the WHL will fully review the Seven Point Plan in detail and to go over the new WHL Playing Rule changes that coincide with the plan.

From the email

The WHL Seven Point Plan is a comprehensive approach to addressing this important matter and includes the adoption of new playing rules; more severe suspensions for repeat offenders; production of an educational video on risks of concussions to educate the players to be more responsible for themselves on the ice; a seminar for all WHL Head Coaches and General Managers; new soft cap elbow and shoulder pads; expanded research data and a review of all WHL arena facilities safety standards. 

The WHL Playing Rule changes includes the adoption of a Checking to the Head penalty for lateral and blind side hits to an unsuspecting opponent in open ice where the head is targeted or is the principle point of contact. The WHL also tightened the standard on late hits as well as charging and interference penalties to address players building up significant speed and hitting the opponent along the boards with excessive force. The WHL also adopted a new embellishment rule and introduced automatic suspensions for players who receive multiple penalties for checking to the head, checking from behind, embellishment and kneeing.

If you really want to look at what the WHL is trying to do here is not weaken the sport but rather improve the sport by strengthening the rules in areas where the highest chances of a player getting injured happens.

The first thing we like is that all coaches and general managers are together in one location so they all are going to get the same briefing on the rules, how the rules will be applied as well as (we hope) make it clear what is clean and what is not.

And granted there is a very good chance that someone is going to bring up a valid question that is not addressed in this seminar. But when you have 44 coaches and general managers together then odds are good that grey areas are addressed and everyone leaves the seminar on the same page.

Yes we know the rules will be only as strong as how evenly they are enforced by the on-ice officials as well as the WHL office. But it is a start and it is a start that we do expect to see expanded to the OHL and QMJHL.

Maybe this is the right way to go about it; teach the kids today so when they grow up to be NHLers then the right mindset towards hit's to the head will be in place. As it is Hockey Canada is adopting "zero tolerance" towards hits to the head (as is USA hockey) so players even younger are being taught a new mindset towards blows to the head.

Doing it this way also sends a message to those who think the goal is to take away the physical part of the game that no it does not. What it does is attempt to clearly define what is a good hit and what is not.

Reducing player injuries helps everyone so it is hard not to like seeing these kinds of changes and even better how these changes are being rolled out. Everyone getting the same review at the same time helps avoid confusion as well as puts everyone on an even level.

Good for the WHL addressing a serious issue in a proactive way.

Game Canceled

Also in our mail box was this from the Portland Winterhawks and we can not help but think that this is more bragging than "sorry about that"

The Winterhawks have an unprecedented 15 players away at National Hockey League training camps. However, that incredible success has come with a downside: with a depleted roster, the Portland Winterhawks have been forced to cancel both the preseason game against Seattle scheduled for Friday and the Street Fair scheduled for Saturday.

The Winterhawks dressed just 16 skaters for this past weekend’s preseason games, but lost one player to injury over the weekend and a second to a waiver claim from another team, leaving Portland with too few skaters to field a team for Friday’s game.

With the shortened roster, the organization decided to move many of planned Street Fair attractions and events to the opening night game on Friday, September 23.

“Having 15 players away at NHL training camps is a testament to the talent we have on our team, and a pretty nice problem to have,” said Portland Winterhawks President Doug Piper. “With our players in such demand at the next level, we decided to concentrate our hockey celebration on opening night next Friday.”

Let the Winterhawks brag about having 15 players (actually 16 if you include Taylor Jordan) because 3 years ago this franchise was in terrible shape. Horrible owners had alienated fans, made players not want to wear a uniform that like the Rangers has a proud tradition to it.

You bet they are my home team but I am also proud of the effort that the behind the scenes people have done to help rebuild the Winterhawks. Come next Friday night it is more than the players, coaches and owners who deserve a bow, it is the entire Winterhawk family from office staff to the booster club to the billet families.

Those banners belong to a lot of people and they should enjoy every moment of it.

(WHL Logo courtesy of the Western Hockey League)

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