Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Scary hit had mom distressed

Chilling image of Hall flying facefirst into boards induces winces, shudders

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BRANDON -- Taylor Hall picked up a couple of Memorial Cup souvenirs on opening weekend.

The first was a stiff back for hockey's top prospect on Saturday morning, the lingering after-effect of a nauseating headfirst check into the boards Friday night in the early moments of a 9-3 win by Hall's Windsor Spitfires over the Brandon Wheat Kings in the opener of the 2010 MasterCard Memorial Cup.

And the other souvenir? An awe-inspiring still photograph of the moment of the collision -- face meet boards -- boards, face -- authored by award-winning Canadian Press photographer Frank Gunn that ran in Saturday editions of Canadian newspapers from coast-to-coast.

"I saw the hit a few times and it's not very pretty at all," said Hall. "I saw the photo and I just feel for my mom. I don't know what she's thinking right now."

Actually, Hall knows exactly what his mom, Kim, is thinking back in Kingston, Ont. While the 18-year-old sniper is widely expected to be selected either first or second overall at next month's NHL entry draft, Hall said it wasn't the teams who hold those two selections -- Edmonton and Boston respectively -- who were calling Saturday morning.

"The biggest call was from my mom, she was really worried," said Hall. "I felt bad -- she had to watch the replay on TV about 10 times."

The replay and the photo combined to make it one of those moments everyone in hockey was still talking about the next day.

And it also, in a way, just further solidified why Hall is such a special prospect. He can score, sure -- 123 goals in 183 games in the OHL over the past three seasons. He has dazzling moves -- his first of two goals against Brandon Friday featured a between-the-legs move that still had Brandon defenceman Colby Robak scratching his head Saturday.

"It was a good move on his part. I never thought he would have done it," said Robak, who waved at air as Hall skated by him on his way to the net. And then there was the toughness Hall showed in not only coming back from the hit -- he lay dazed on the ice for several minutes afterward -- but also scoring twice.

Hall says he's been told by a chiropractor that he's unusually flexible, which probably helped given the way his neck bent at impact. But Hall's coach and teammates say it's his toughness, not his flexibility, that allows the 6-1, 185-pound prospect to stand apart.

"I don't know how he got up from that," said Windsor defenceman Cam Fowler. "I've seen him get up from hits before this season, but nothing like that. That was pretty scary."

Windsor head coach Bob Boughner, who describes Hall as a future "franchise player" and cannot understand why there's any debate about whether he should go first overall in next month NHL entry draft, says Hall is not one to shy away from hockey's rough stuff.

"He goes to the hard areas," says Boughner. "He's not afraid to get involved and that's what makes him such a great player.

"He can take a pounding and he can also deliver one. I'd like to see him in a few years when he's added 10 pounds and is that much stronger."

But perhaps most impressive of all about the highlight hit was the class Hall showed afterward toward Wheat Kings defenceman Travis Hamonic. Hall did not have the puck when Hamonic launched him headfirst into the boards and he certainly wouldn't have been the first goal scorer to whine that he'd been wronged on a sheet of hockey ice. (Hello, Sidney Crosby).

But instead, Hall took it all on himself, describing how it was he who initiated the contact with Hamonic and exonerating the Brandon blue-liner. "It wasn't his fault," Hall said.

"It just goes to show that you have to give it your all -- you don't know what's going to happen the next game. I have to play on the edge. If I'm not playing on the edge, if I'm not playing desperate, things like that are going to happen and I'm going to get hurt."

Somehow, some way, it wasn't Friday night, however.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 16, 2010 A23

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