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Former veteran NHL official points to players’ mindsets when it comes to hits to the head

Nov 8, 2010, 12:12 AM EDT

rayscapinello

Concussions are a near-constant part of sports discussions lately – from players getting injured and dealing with the symptoms to pundits wondering how leagues should curb their presence.

While the NHL might be going overboard at times in the suspensions being handed out for checks that sometimes seem like borderline hits, it’s nice to see that the league’s collective hearts are in the right place. Even if it may have ruined large portions of the careers of players such as Marc Savard and Eric Lindros to get to this point.

But what about the hearts and minds of the players themselves? Former NHL official Ray Scapinello (seen in this post’s main photo) wonders if the issue of hits to the heads and other injurious checks might really be in the way hockey players treat each other more than the way the league legislates the aftermath. He shared those feelings with the Canadian Press.

“In days gone by, you used to hit a guy just to separate the puck,” said Scapinello, who spent 33 years as a NHL linesman before retiring in 2004. “Now they hit to hurt. … Even the cleanest check in the world, they’ll try and knock your head off. I don’t know if it’s lack of respect—I really can’t put my finger on what it actually is.

“The whole mindset of players has to change.”

Obviously I don’t have the same fly-on-the-wall experience as Scapinello, but I wonder if the issue is two-fold. For one thing, players are simply getting larger, something that would be pretty difficult to legislate. Another factor is that people are simply more aware of concussions; head injuries that might have been classified as “getting your bell rung” are now being treated more carefully. It’s natural to look back to whatever era you grew up in/matured in/whatever as a better period, but maybe things are just different now without being categorically worse?

I mean, after all, hockey is a tough, physical sport that always was (and probably always will be) a rugged game.

Moving on, another veteran referee named Ron Hoggarth discussed the challenges faced by modern officials, particularly in the case of the league’s new rules about hits to the head and blindside hits.

Hoggarth still watches a lot of NHL games on television and believes the referees are also adjusting to the new penalty. A major component of Rule 48 is supplemental discipline, which essentially gives the league’s hockey operations staff an equal role in its enforcement.

As a result, he thinks officials are less likely to call the penalty on the ice.

“I wish they’d give a little more (control) back to the referees,” said Hoggarth. “With the head shots, I’d really like them to say, ‘here it is, you guys call it.’ If it’s wrong, we can change it afterwards.

“I see some hesitancy from the referees to call that.”

Obviously, the NHL’s rules on such hits constitute a work in progress. How are you feeling about the way the league is handling such issues? Do you agree with Hoggarth and Scapinello? Feel free to share your thoughts on these subjects in the comments.

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