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McKenzie: Time for junior hockey to get with headshot program

Bob McKenzie
3/22/2011 6:36:41 PM
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It was interesting to read Allan Maki's story in The Globe and Mail on Tuesday which reported that the Western Hockey League has documented more concussions this season - a total of almost 100 - than the NHL's current tally of 80-plus.

We shouldn't be surprised, really.

Boys will be boys, after all, and unbridled emotion - coupled with a higher degree of inexperience - would probably explain it.

But for the righteously indignant amongst fans and media who are ultra-incensed that the NHL has not seen fit to seriously consider a universal head-checking penalty - where any hit to the head is deemed an illegal hit, punishable by at least a two minute minor penalty - perhaps it's time to turn their good intentions on junior hockey.

The NHL is at the peak of the hockey pyramid and it's obvious the risk factors and danger levels are going to be inherently higher than in junior hockey - and rightfully so.

Only one of Canada's three major junior leagues - the Ontario Hockey League - currently has a head-checking penalty.

The WHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League do not.

When you consider the majority of players who graduate from Canada's three junior leagues will not make a long-term living playing the game professionally, the WHL and QMJHL would do well to ask themselves, "Hasn't the time come to get with the program?"

OHL attendance is strong, It continues to develop elite level players for the NHL. The fabric of the OHL game doesn't look as though it's been torn apart because of a rule that should be accepted as the bare minimum in any hockey league where the players don't make their living playing the game.

No one should be naive enough to think a head-checking penalty alone will eliminate concussions. The concussion epidemic at all levels of hockey is far more complex than that. But for a bunch of 16 to 20-year-old kids, most of whom will only ever see the NHL by watching it on television or buying a ticket to a game?

Don't you think it's kind of outrageous that more isn't being done in junior hockey across Canada?

The numbers would certainly suggest it.

Bob McKenzie

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