Tuesday, March 06, 2007

One Head Hit Is All It Takes

(Note -Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun, in his piece today, makes these poignant observations of outright hypocrisy in the leagues rulings on hit to the head. As Simmons clearly points out, it seems that what the league has failed to do, which is impose proper deterents on hits to the head, has returned to haunt them. Along with blaming the player who commits the fouls, the blame must also be shared by the officials for their lack of sound and quick judgement, and to the league for inconsistant messages sent to the players.)

It didn't matter that it happened to Steve Moore. He was a fourth-liner, he was disposable.
That's what the hockey people whispered to each other -- and still do -- without any sense of embarrassment.

Besides, he deserved it, they figure. It was payback. He had the audacity as a rookie of all things, as a filler on the roster, to try to hit Markus Naslund, the star of the Vancouver Canucks.


All it cost him was his life in hockey. All it stole from him was his future and his income.

So now, the story changes as the three-year anniversary of Moore's last hockey game sadly approaches. This time it's not revenge, it's just rule-breaking.

A star in Toronto is knocked silly by a four-minute man in New Jersey. A star in Buffalo is jumped at and knocked out by an the rarest of commodities, an over-zealous Senator.


Now, the hockey people aren't whispering about Tomas Kaberle deserving to get his or Chris Drury deserving his headaches because they matter.

Because they aren't so disposable. Because they are players the owners notice in paycheque and performance. Because they make a difference. Because the National Hockey League has forever been about double and triple standards.

Russian forward Ivan Nepryaev checks Tomas Kaberle to the ice in the last Olympics in a hit that looks eerily similar to that thrown by Devils forward Cam Janssen.

"I don't think there is any real comparison between what happened to Steve and what happened Chris or Tomas," said Mark Moore, Steve's brother, and the author of the compelling hockey book, Saving The Game, who just returned from speaking at the Harvard Law School. "But there's a comparison of what happened to Chris and Tomas."

If anything, Mark Moore can relate to what Kaberle and Drury have been and are going through. Before his brother became famous for all the wrong reasons, Mark lost his minor professional hockey career to concussion.

He knows one rule of concussions: You don't know what you don't know.

"I thought I would be back in a week," Moore said. "Then I thought the next week. It was a long time later that they discovered I had a brain stem injury."


"In the majority of cases, there is no way of predicting what's ahead for the player. They don't know whether a player will get better, when he will get better, that's part of the problem with an injury like this," Moore said.

There are more than a few similarities -- and some gigantic differences -- in what happened to Steve Moore and what happened to Kaberle and Drury. The actions in each case violated the rules in both words and spirit. The actions clearly demonstrated a lack of respect by players to players. The notion of separating man from puck was not in play in any of these circumstances.

"I can't help but think that if Neil was suspended for his late hit on Drury, a significant suspension, then Janssen thinks twice about hitting Kaberle," Moore said.

"Some people assume that a player can get 10-12 concussions before they can't play anymore because that's what it took for Pat LaFontaine. But it could be one. Just one.

"Any kind of illegal hit, such as a late hit, a deliberate charge, a hit from behind, a hit to the head that's liable to cause injury should be severely punished through suspension. Every time there is a severe incident, the league response has to send a message that seriously dissuades anything like this from happening again."

The reports are that Kaberle will be out two weeks. But the truth is, they don't know. They're just guessing. And what they also don't know is what kind of player are they getting back?

Was Paul Kariya ever the same after the Gary Suter incident? At what point did Eric Lindros stop being Eric Lindros? How many times did Adam Deadmarsh think he was ready to return to form?

"You ask yourself, what if it's Sidney Crosby? How many players are we willing to risk? How could you not do everything possible -- I mean everything possible -- to try to diminish these injuries," Moore said.

Thursday is the unfortunate anniversary of his brother's last game.

"It's still shocking," he said. "A lot of people that I meet remember where they were when they saw it happen. It had a profound impression on them."

Just not enough on the hockey world to make a real difference.

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