WHL adopts plan to reduce head-shots and concussions
The Western Hockey League unveiled its plan to try and limit head-shots and concussions following the Board of Governors Annual General Meeting in Calgary last week.
The league announced it has implemented a Seven Point Plan to reduce blows to the head and concussions.
“The WHL Seven Point Plan is a comprehensive approach to addressing this important matter and includes the adoption of new playing rules; more severe suspensions for repeat offenders; production of an educational video on risks of concussion; educating the players to be more responsible for themselves on the ice; a seminar for all WHL Head Coaches and General Managers; new soft cap elbow and shoulder pads; expanded research data and a review of all WHL arena facilities safety standards,” stated a WHL press release.
“I think the Plan is really good,” said Swift Current Broncos head coach and general manager Mark Lamb. “They put a lot of work into it. The suspensions are going to be a little more severe. You don’t have to even have guys knocked out and laid out on the ice for it to be a suspension. Some of the rules that are going to change are a charging rule where the charging rule was if you had your feet moving, sometimes you are going to be going pretty fast and gliding and still hit a guy pretty high.”
Despite the new Seven Point Plan, Lamb still believes that much of the responsibility will lie with the on-ice officials.
“I think that all these rules that they are putting in are really not much different than the rules already are, it comes into play with how the refs are going to call it. When you put it in the hands of the ref then there is a lot of human error because the game is so quick.”
The Broncos have been affected by concussions as much as any team in the WHL, most notably by the season-ending injury to forward Killian Hutt in Kamloops on December 12, 2010 when he was blindsided by Blazers forward Jordan DePape, who was suspended five games for the hit that left Hutt convulsing on the ice.
“I think that all in all something had to be done. The amount of concussions the last three years just in our league, they had a study and the Swift Current Broncos are right at the top of the list with the most concussions in the league, which is frightening,” explained Lamb.
The type of hit that ended Hutt’s season will hopefully be curbed by WHL Playing Rule changes that include the adoption of a Checking to the Head penalty for lateral and blindside hits to an unsuspecting opponent in open ice where the head is targeted or the principle point of contact. The league has also tightened the standard on late hits and charging and interference to try and prevent players from building significant speed and hitting players along the boards with significant force.
The league also created a new embellishment rule and added automatic suspensions for multiple offenders of checking to the head, checking from behind, embellishment, and kneeing infractions.
“The WHL is fully committed to addressing head blows and concussions in a comprehensive manner,” commented WHL Commissioner Ron Robison in a league press release. “We believe the Seven Point Plan we have adopted will not only create a safer environment for our players but will also enable us to better educate our players, coaches and officials as to what constitutes a legal hit.”
“I think that they are taking a lot of the right steps and we have to try and get it out of the game a little more. It is not going to completely solve all the concussions, but it sure will help,” added Lamb, who noted that there was unanimous support to address the league’s concussion problem. “Everybody knows that it is a problem and that something has to be done. The game is bigger and faster and there is no holding like the old days when you could interfere a lot and there wasn’t the speed that people were coming at you with.”
He hopes that changes to the equipment standards to eliminate hard surfaces on elbow and shoulder pads will make a significant difference as well.
“They talked about the equipment and there is going to be a change with the elbow pads and the shoulder pads where they are not that hard, hard surface, which some of this equipment is so hard that you hit anybody with it and it is going to knock you out. They are going to change the equipment a little bit and I think that will help a lot too.”