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Head shot measures winning approval among players

by James Murphy
BOSTON -- Thursday morning, every NHL team had to watch a DVD of what constitutes a legal and illegal hit as mandated by the NHL for the remainder of the regular season through the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In the mind of Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart, one of Boston's fiercest hitters, the message got through. Included in the DVD was the hit Stuart's teammate Marc Savard took from Penguins forward Matt Cooke that knocked Savard out for the season with a concussion. Stuart said he had a chance to lay a similar hit in the Bruins' 5-3 loss to the Lightning Thursday night, but elected to abide by the new rule.

Late in the game, Stuart had Lightning forward Mark Parrish lined up for an open-ice hit, but pulled up at the last second instead getting tangled up with Parrish's legs. Stuart was called for tripping on the penalty, but he admitted he let up because he knew that he could've seriously injured Parrish and subsequently been suspended.

"Well, I actually let up," Stuart said. "I tried to get out of the way of him. I was a little scared watching that [head shot] video this morning. I don't know, but I could have finished my check, but I tried to get out of the way and the skate just caught him, so he's [the referee] got to call that I think, but he was just in front of me. I was trying to get out the way and tried not to take him out."

"It wasn't so much we were saying 'Wait, wait, wait,' as much as it was a case of us saying 'Let's get this out to the players to discuss it,'" Edmonton Oilers forward Shawn Horcoff said. "That was a big part of it. We're all in support of a rule that protects the players from head shots. At the same time, you don't want to take the aggressiveness out of the game. As long as guys are still going to be able to step up and make plays. The way it looks is that anything from the side, from behind, anything directly related to the head, is going to be considered dangerous, but if a guy has his head down and he's skating right at you and it's a straight-on hit, it is going to be legal. Players do still have to have some sort of responsibility to protect themselves.

"We're just seeing too much lack of respect out there," Horcoff said. "There have to be stiff penalties, but it's not an easy fix. So it's not just that the league was pushing for it. The players are pushing for it too. It's a matter of getting the rule right. You can't just throw out a 'no head shot' rule and leave it at that. There has to be guidelines, and that's tough to do. Hopefully, this brings a lot more awareness to the game and raises the level of respect out there."

Earlier in the day both Lightning and Bruins players applauded the rule.

"I mean we all saw what happened to Savard and while we're glad we don't have to deal with him because he's so talented, no one wants to see that happen and I wouldn't wish that on anyone," Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said prior to scoring 2 goals against the Bruins Thursday night. "This has become a problem for many reasons. The game is faster, the equipment is bigger and more dangerous and I think honestly there's a culture created with my generation and kids coming in from college or juniors that we're invincible because of the protection we have.

"Ironically, I think it's that protection that's hurting us," Stamkos said. "No one can survive those elbow pads hitting their heads at 30 miles per hour in an open-ice hit. This is a step in the right direction and I think it will help."

Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron has been an advocate against head shots since he suffered a Grade 3 concussion on Oct. 27, 2007 and missed the remainder of the 2007-08 season.

"I'm happy this is happening, but it should've just been common sense for players and they should know not to do that anyway," Bergeron said. "But this is at least a good step and hopefully we can correct this."

Similar sentiments echoed throughout the NHL.

"I think it'd be good," Sidney Crosby told TSN prior to the NHLPA signing off on the measure. "We have had so many debates over the last year especially with head shots and they're nothing we liked to see. Collectively we all pretty much agree there. The sooner we're able to do that probably the better as far as the clarity of the rule.
"It's a quick game obviously and there may be a couple of guys early on who may forget or may not realize the severity of the rule right away, but with any rule that's what you see. You see guys that are made as examples and we're going to see that with this rule I'm sure, but how soon or how much it affects everything I guess we'll have to wait and see. At any point guys are going to have to realize that."

Calagry Flames forward Jamal Mayers told Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun he approved of the move.

"They have to add a penalty, or else people may feel it's worth it to take out a player," Mayers said. "You have to assess a minor or major penalty, or else it doesn't hurt the team. Otherwise, it might be worth it in a playoff situation. In the playoffs, what's to say it's not a smart move to go after a guy?"

"I think they went far enough, for the moment," Flames defenseman Robyn Reghr said. "I don't think anything has happened like this for a while, especially this season, in terms of the number of questionable hits. ... If you look at the number of total hits in the NHL season, compared to the hits we see over and over, those dirty headshot hits, it's a very small percentage. If there are tens of thousands of hits, you're only looking at single-digit numbers of the ones we're talking about. What they're trying to do get rid of really bad, vicious hits. When a guy's targeting a player's head, we all know it."

"There's no room for that kind of stuff," Chicago Blackhawks winger Troy Brouwer told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. "Everyone's here for the same reason: It's to make a living and play the game that they love. Nobody wants to be out there in fear that they might (suffer) a career-ending injury and then you can't do what you love to do. I like the fact they're cracking down on it. They should punish guys who make the effort to hit somebody in the head."

"Players got to recognize ... when players are vulnerable and they can't protect themselves," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's going to be a good rule [with] the players knowing that there are some consequences right now and going forward."

"We're just seeing too much lack of respect out there. There have to be stiff penalties, but it's not an easy fix. So it's not just that the League was pushing for it. The players are pushing for it too. It's a matter of getting the rule right. You can't just throw out a 'no head shot' rule and leave it at that. There has to be guidelines, and that's tough to do. Hopefully, this brings a lot more awareness to the game and raises the level of respect out there." -- Edmonton Oilers forward Shawn Horcoff

Members of the Florida Panthers, who know all too well what can happen after seeing teammate David Booth injured earlier this season, also support the initiative.

"I think it's something that needs to be involved in our game," defenseman Bryan Allen, the team's NHLPA rep told Steve Gorten of the Sun-Sentinel. "There have been too many incidents that have gone unnoticed and unpenalized. It's something we have to do to protect ourselves.

"That's the key -- to try and keep the safety of the players. … Guys realize when another guy is vulnerable. To take advantage of a player in that situation isn't right."

"Those are the type of hits we're trying to get out of the game,'' Nashville's Dan Hamhuis told John Glennon of The Tennessean. "They're dangerous and there's really no need for them, so that's why players are in support of it."

New Jersey Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner told Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger that there will be an adjustment period.

"I think it's something, like any rule instituted, it will take time," Langenbrunner said. "Especially this one. (Hits to the head) are not a rarity anymore, but it definitely doesn't happen every game. Hopefully it will get rid of the needless hit."

Players will be disciplined for blind side hits to the head and from behind. But straight-on hits to the head will not be affected.

"You're walking a dangerous plank if you take that out of the game," Langenbrunner said. "There is a difference in size of guys. Plays that happen fast, guys are going to get hit in the head. You can't take that out of the game. Anything unnecessary that you can avoid, great. But you have to be careful, too.

"I think you should have a pretty good idea if a guy can't see you and he's vulnerable, don't hit him in the head. On a lot of those plays the player has to realize where he's putting himself on the ice, too. You can't be a little reckless and put yourself in those spots."

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock also supports the measures.

"It's something that needed to be looked after and I am glad it's being looked after," Babcock told the Detroit News. "Hits to the head should not be tolerated."

"It's a step," Vancouver's Matt Stajan said. "There's a respect factor involved. You've got to be responsible. When a guy is targeting the head on a hit, it's pretty obvious. There was a lot of grey area in the before. They're trying to make it more black and white. You can't totally take it out because at the last second sometimes guys don't see the hit coming or they turn into it. But now, if you target a guy's head, it's going to cost you and your team."
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