Williams was laid out by Raffi Torres in Wednesday's game against the Oilers. Torres' shoulder caught Williams in the face, knocking him down hard as he attempted a wrap-around. He lay motionless but conscious for several minutes and was ultimately removed from the ice on a stretcher. He recieved a concussion and facial lacerations and will be on the Injured Reserve for an indefinite period.
On October 14, in Pittsburgh, Carolina's Trevor Letowski was knocked unconcious by an open ice shoulder-to-chin hit from the Pens' Colby Armstrong. He lay unconcious in a pool of blood for several minutes before being removed on a stretcher. He missed the next 9 games with facial lacerations and post-concussion symptoms.
On October 17, Calgary's Robyn Regehr blasted Montréal's Aaron Downey with an open ice shoulder-to-head hit that knocked Downey out, putting him on a stretcher and on the IR for five games.
In each case, there was clearly contact above the shoulder, and in each case, the hits went unpenalized. Many fans from the old school say things like they did when Erik Cole suffered a broken neck as a result of a questionable hit last winter. They say that you should always skate with your head up. That you should never watch the pass you just made. That you should never look anywhere other than right ahead of you. That you should never make any sudden moves or direction changes. That you should never do this, that or the other. They say that if you don't heed this kind of advice, you deserve what you get, even if you "get" a broken neck.
I haven't seen the Regehr hit, and it's clear that the other two hits were in no way shape or form malicious. They were just hard hits that ended up badly.
However, I think the NHL needs to do something about these kinds of hits. I don't think a two minute penalty would be asking too much. The officials aren't perfect. They're going to miss some calls, they're going to be out of position for some, but I'd like to see them looking for those kinds of things.
According to a story I read on TSN.ca today, they're already doing this in the Ontario Hockey League.
Checking a player and making contact with the head, incidental or otherwise with the shoulder or any other part of the body, is now a penalty. Two minutes for any contact with the head; five minutes if it's with intent to injure or results in injury.
Sounds a bit like the way high-sticking is called. Incidental? So what? I have no problem with that. Of course there would be times that a referee would miss a call, or be out of position and simply not see the infraction. In the case of high-sticking, an obvious and fitting example of a referee absolutely blowing the call was when Carolina's Justin "Viva" Williams injured Montréal's Saku Koivu with a high-stick during the first round of the playoffs last spring. Although Koivu was bleeding, and ended up having serious repercussions from the scary injury, there was no penalty. There was no post facto fine or suspension, either. I stand behind the players on my team, but the fact of the matter is Williams should have been penalized for four minutes.
Of course I know hockey is a contact sport. Of course I know that the players know what they're getting into. That isn't the point. The point is to take some precautionary measures. The point is also to hold players accountable for dangerous play. If measures can be taken to reduce the number of blows to the head, we'll see fewer of these types of injuries.
The NFL has had anti-head contact rules for years. Any hitting above the shoulder is strictly forbidden. Any contact, intentional or not, with a quarterback's head or helmet results in a penalty and fine. Since they got serious about policing that kind of helmet-to-helmet and hand-to-quarterback's helmet contact, the behavior of linebackers has changed dramatically. You now see guys making a deliberate effort to not contact the QB's head. While I think the NFL goes a bit too far to protect the quarterback (just as I think the NHL goes too far to protect the goalie), I like the strong stance they take on blows to the head.
Don't take my word for it, though. Bobby Orr had a lot to say about this.
I don't want to see hitting taken out of the game, I love hitting in hockey, but if someone puts his shoulder into a player's face, if he puts anything -- an arm, an elbow, a glove -- I think that player should get a penalty. Definitely, it should be a penalty. We are having players getting knocked unconscious before they even hit the ice and carried off on stretchers. How can that be legal? When did hitting someone in the head with your shoulder or any part of your body become part of the rules? Anything above the neck, it's wrong.
Hey, I got hit a lot when I played and I didn't get hit in the head with checks. Players didn't always hit like that. To me, that's not part of bodychecking. I mean, don't you have to be responsible for your actions? If you hit a guy in the face with your stick by accident, you're going to get a penalty. Two minutes, four minutes, five minutes, something. If you go to bodycheck a guy and you hit him in the face or head, and injure him, that's legal? That's fair? That's not a penalty? I'm sorry, I don't think that is right. It should be a penalty.
Anyway, what it boils down to for me is that I'd like to see blows to the head reduced. If it takes major penalties, fines, suspensions, then that's what it takes. Checking the body is one thing. The head is quite another.