Intentional hits, concussions a growing problem - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Intentional hits, concussions a growing problem

Updated: Mar 22, 2012 10:00 CDT
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

In a game that had something for everyone, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Vancouver Canucks 2-1 in overtime. There is no better rivalry in the NHL than a Chicago-Vancouver contest, and Wednesday night was a great example. For those who get squeamish when the rough stuff is a big part of a hockey game, they had to watch with only one eye open.

Lost in all the rough stuff was the outstanding play of both goaltenders. Roberto Luongo kept his team in the hunt as he made a number of huge stops in the opening forty minutes. Luongo made some very difficult saves but was also helped by the Hawks firing a number of shots square into his stomach.

As the game unfolded, after allowing a questionable goal in the opening seconds, the night belonged to Corey Crawford. He wasn't tested as often as Luongo, but in the third period with the game on the line Crawford was brilliant. Crawford had a sequence of about six great stops that may have been his best string of saves all season. No doubt Crawford's 12 saves in the final 20 minutes, and the one in overtime, was some of his finest hockey in a very long time.

Besides a dreadful power play, the Hawks did well and deserved the victory. The Hawks' best players were the top performers in the game. Patrick Sharp was all over the ice and had seven shots. Marian Hossa was a beast with the puck and could have scored a few times. Once again, Patrick Kane was working hard at both ends of the ice and was a difference maker.

Brent Seabrook in particular was very good, but all of the Hawks defenders deserve some praise. Recent addition Johnny Oduya had a shaky start but got better as the game went on. Now Oduya knows what it is like to be part of a Hawks-Canuck clash and his aggressive play led to the winning goal.

The Hawks checking line was doing top work along the boards and helped to limit the scoring opportunities for the Canucks. Andrew Shaw got another big goal by good fortune, but his reward came from going hard to the net. Shaw led all players with five hits. Dave Bolland recorded an assist as he along with Bryan Bickell is playing some of the best hockey of the season.

Two wrongs don't make a right, but retaliation is part of hockey.

Duncan Keith delivered an elbow to Daniel Sedin's head after the Canuck forward came in high with a shoulder to Keith's cranium. Sedin wasn't called for a penalty but later Keith received a two minute minor for elbowing when he probably sought revenge. Sedin was helped off the ice at 13:36 of the opening period and did not return.

From the beginning of the second period on, it was as if the Canucks were hell-bent on retaliating and targeting Keith as the game got very chippy.

Unfortunately, the Blackhawks failed to capitalize on numerous power play opportunities or this game wouldn't have needed to go to overtime. The end result is the Hawks captured the extra point, but Keith could likely be suspended for a couple of games.

Physical hockey is great to watch, but the lines are blurry these days between rough and dangerous play. Retaliation and intimidation are part of the sport but are dangerous in excess.

Due to the exceedingly rough play, the Canucks may have lost a star player because of a concussion injury. Keith's elbow to the head was wrong, although it appeared he was trying to get even. None-the-less, targeting the head has to stop or the sport will suffer. The Blackhawks may have lost a young player who has been playing really well to a head injury as well.

Marcus Kruger was being abused during the first period. He was getting hit often by Ryan Kesler and other Canucks. The physical contact was more an attempt to intimidate rather than being part of a hockey play. Kruger has had concussion issues in the past. Wednesday night he didn't return after the opening frame and was announced out due to an upper body injury.

These days an upper body injury often means a concussion. A young player like Kruger, who is smaller and doesn't fight, is a target for the opposition. Whether he has a head problem or another issue, Kruger's injury was caused by the Canucks pushing the physical part of the game to the limit. Keith's attempt to do similar was more blatant, but the end result could be no different.

The Canucks came into the game trying to play as physical as possible. Part of their mission was to get to smaller players like Kruger and Kane. Vancouver's Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Burrows and others were trying to win at all costs. By taking certain Hawk players off their game, the Canucks could have had a better chance of skating away with a win.

The reason things swung to the Hawks favor was their ability to stand up to the Canucks physicality and not be intimidated. This was certainly the case for Kane, as he withstood punishment and kept coming all night long.

Kane has been one of the smaller players on the ice all his life. He knows how to defend himself and realizes showing any sign of being timid is the worst thing possible. Fortunately, Kane has the ability and instincts to avoid many big checks and to keep going strong.

Kruger, on the other hand, doesn't protect himself as well, so injuries do come more often. To Kruger's credit he is fearless, but not being afraid and unable to avoid a physical pounding makes him more likely to get injured. Hopefully Kruger didn't suffer another concussion, because if he did, his return to action may not be for quite awhile.

The Hawks won't play until Sunday and they can use the rest as the list of injured playing isn't shrinking. Another strong opponent in the Nashville Predators will pay a visit to the United Center over the weekend.

Nashville is tied with Chicago with 92 points on the season, but they have played two fewer games. The Hawks want to stay on a roll and keep playing winning hockey. Finishing fifth in the Western Conference instead of sixth may not be their best opportunity to succeed in the post season, though.

As it stands today, the Hawks are only one point behind Detroit, who is in fourth place in the West. Finishing fourth instead of fifth or sixth would mean a home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

The likelihood of a fourth place finish in the Conference didn't seem possible three weeks ago, but now it is within reach.

Al's Shots

Not to downplay the physical side of hockey or to promote its existence either, but change is needed in the sport.

Maybe before any more rules are modified, the first admission should be by players. They should admit they are trying to actually hurt an opponent. Delivering heavy hits when not required to finish a play or striking someone in the head has to be acknowledged as excessive.

I'm not saying Keith or Kelser went out to give anyone a concussion last night, but they weren't concerned enough about their actions. Being penalized or suspended doesn't make up for a concussion. No one has a clear understanding of the long term effects of head injuries.

About a week ago I heard a frightening comment.

Keith Primeau was forced to retire due to concussions in the fall of 2005. Primeau suffered at least four concussions in the NHL and was often out of action in his last two seasons. Primeau was only 34 years old when he retired almost six and a half years ago.

The comment reported by a friend familiar with Primeau's health situation was only recently has he been completely symptom free.

Everyone playing professional hockey should be aware of Primeau's plight. According to reports, there are 13 NHL players who have had their careers cut short due to concussion.

Unfortunately that number could likely increase after this season.

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