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Coaches with different perspectives regarding the Smith on Smith hit

Sep 29, 2011, 1:24 AM EDT

Dave Bolland, Brendan Smith, Ben Smith AP

Brendan Shanahan has been the busiest man in the NHL throughout the course of the preseason in hopes of establishing a strict precedent to deter headshots. Apparently, the message hasn’t been sent to all of the players quite yet. Seriously, Brendan Shanahan’s videos are going to be eligible for syndication before the regular season starts—yet players can’t remember what it’s all about.

In a play that is a textbook example of the type of hit the NHL is trying to eliminate this season, Red Wings’ defenseman Brendan Smith’s skated across the ice and made contact with Blackhawks’ forward Ben Smith’s head. Forget the notion of principle contact: the only contact the Wings blueliner made was with the head. The Hawks’ Smith laid on the ice while he tried to collect his marbles and figure out the correct answer to the question “where are you?”

No doubt this type of play will be Shanahan’d by the end of the week. Here’s a handy link for anyone who wants to see the hit in question. (Hit occurs at 0:50 mark)

It’s interesting to see the varying opinions from each team in the aftermath of such a hit. Both Blackhawks’ coach Joel Quenneville and Wings’ headman Mike Babcock had ice-level vantage points for the headshot. Yet in the postgame press conference, the tone of their comments were certainly dissimilar. First, Quenneville’s comments:

“Both referees said that’s a classic example of what we’re talking about — the illegal hit. It was pretty black-and-white.

“This is what we’re trying to get away from. When you’re in open ice, it’s a 1-on-1 play. It’s tough to get a hit like that. I don’t know if you should be protecting your head when you’re basically in a tight area with one guy.”

From the Wings’ locker room, the question was more about Ben Smith’s responsibility to protect himself at all times. Despite Shanahan repeatedly explaining that the onus is on the player delivering the check to avoid contact with the head, Wings’ coach Mike Babcock wondered if the Hawks’ Smith was partially to blame for the situation. Here is Babcock’s perspective of the hit:

“Is there any responsibility on the puck carrier — toe dragging, sliding sideways — to look after himself. I’m not saying our guy isn’t guilty, but you’d better not put yourself in those situations.

“He (Brendan Smith) was trying to make body contact, but their guy did this and left his head there.” Babcock added, while jerking his head to the side to imitate Ben Smith’s motion just before the impact.

A quick disclaimer: Mike Babcock is one of the best coaches in NHL and has been for the last decade. He could win the Jack Adams Trophy every single year and it would be a deserved award. But in this case, Babcock is dead wrong. He asks the rhetorical question “is there any responsibility on the puck carrier?”

The answer: No.

This is precisely the point. The game is changing. The rules are changing, the way it’s being officiated is changing, and how the players are being disciplined is changing. The old-school way most of us were brought up, would say that the player needs to keep his head up to protect himself and avoid any potential injury. The current climate renders that line of reasoning pointless.

The sooner the coaches accept it, the sooner the players will accept it. The sooner the players accept it, the sooner these kinds of hits are eliminated from the game. Apparently we still have a ways to go.

  1. michiganhockey11 - Sep 29, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    Why do they still teach in pee-wee hockey to keep your head up then? They teach it so you don’t get your bell rung and so you can be a better player. Babcock has a point. If a defenseman steps up at the blue line and connects with a forward who is looking down at the puck, who’s fault is it for incidental head contact? You saying that the defenseman can only use a poke-check when the puck carrier isn’t looking? Why don’t we turn the NHL into a woman’s no contact league? (no offense, to the great women players out there, love you gals)

    What about the players that turn into checks along the board to draw “from behind” penalty’s? Don’t they have any responsibility?

    • vergedrums - Sep 29, 2011 at 11:54 AM

      Nice sexism. As soon as you want to insult someone for being what you consider “weak”, you automatically start by comparing them to women. What a joke!

      Giving birth is considered by many to be the most painful experience known to humans.

      Otherwise meaning, your mother’s as tough as you, no matter how much hockey you may play.

      • michiganhockey11 - Sep 29, 2011 at 1:40 PM

        Not sexism if the only other leagues, whether through USA hockey or National Teams/Olympics in this country that do not allow checking is for women. It’s not an insult if comparing to another league that has no hitting (which is what the NHL is sliding towards). You want to add checking for womens leagues? I am all for it. Just don’t complain when all the haters start screaming that hitting in womens leagues is barbaric.

        Thanks for responding to the article as whole though. Try passing a kidney stone fyi.

        Can’t wait for Don Cherry to open his mouth on this stuff when the regular season starts.

  2. comeonnowguys - Sep 29, 2011 at 9:42 AM

    The skater should have kept his head up. But if the defenseman would have made substantive contact with anything other than the head, we wouldn’t be talking about this right now.

  3. michiganhockey11 - Sep 29, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    True, but that’s the argument. If he tries to side step the hit last second (where the defenseman has already committed and has the hit lined up) and sticks his neck out, it would be hard to the defenseman to slam on the breaks to avoid it at the same time. I just don’t think it’s as cut and dry as some would have it.

    Will the league give match penalty’s for open ice hits when a guy has his head down? Those hits are some of the cleanest/most legal there are.

    • polegojim - Sep 29, 2011 at 3:56 PM

      @Michiganhockey – that’s exactly my view. This one isn’t even remotely close to intent to injure or being irresponsible. It was a typical hockey play that went bad.

      @comeonnowguys – yes, if he kept his head up it would have been a body check… but that’s tough for either one at the speed of play on this one. It was just an unfortunate play, but not worthy of anything more than what has occurred.

      @hystoracle – that’s my sticking point, I don’t see any remote sense of recklessness.

  4. hystoracle - Sep 29, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    The responsibility is on the player doing the hitting not on the victim of the hit. Babcock is trying to make the victim into the bad guy and his guy into the victim. It was an illegal hit. Ben Smith (hawks) had his head up looking to the goal and got sideswiped with a rock hard shoulder pad directly to the jaw. He moved his head in a last second attempt to avoid – the remaining motion was caused by the hit.

    The idea of keeping your head up to protect yourself is a good , but it doesn’t absolve other players from making illegal and reckless hits. Smith with the Wings is looking at a few games off to start the season.

    Got to hate Smith on Smith crime. It gets worse everyday.

  5. geshtahl - Sep 29, 2011 at 10:47 PM

    I have to say the way in which the hit was delivered looks bad. It looks like Smith shot out his elbow to hit Smith. Which would be inexcusable. That said it looks like Smith’s head was down which is a big no-no especially when one is trying to make a deke to score, in that case Smith left himself wide open to Smith’s hit. Smith could have done more to avoid this looking so ugly but then so could Smith. Either way, the fault lies with Smith. Smith.

  6. bsears1967 - Sep 30, 2011 at 8:36 AM

    Doesn’t anyone else find Quenneville’s second comment to be pretty stupid? He says it’s an open ice 1 on 1 hit then immediately talks about being in a tight area with one guy. How is open ice a tight area? This hit was open ice and yes the Wing’s Smith was wrong for shoving out his arm after the other Smith had moved away from the hit. However that said, even that was more reactionary than intentional. And the wording in the rule says the onus is on the player making the hit when the other player has not put himself in a defenseless position either just prior to or simultaneously to the hit. In this case it looks to be that Smith had lined up a full body open ice legal hit that missed due to the other Smith’s attempted deke.

  7. nottheimpostergrizzlygriz - Oct 5, 2011 at 12:12 PM

    Smith (Hawks) did not move his head to get out of the way. The first and only motion of it was getting rocked, as it was the only point of contact on a hit that has been illegal for more than a day.

    Had the two players been wearing opposite jerseys, Babcock would have been saying the same stuff Q did. I don’t think Q would be condoning his own player’s illegal hit, though.

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