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'Terrible day of reckoning'

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/3/2010 (3602 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Vancouver’s Mark Messier slams into the post after scoring a goal against Calgary in this 1998 photo. Messier sustained a concussion on the play.

Vancouver’s Mark Messier slams into the post after scoring a goal against Calgary in this 1998 photo. Messier sustained a concussion on the play.

TSN hockey insider Bob McKen­zie didn’t ask for the invitation to the concussion story but he has no plans to uninvite himself from the debate.

McKenzie speaks out in favour of better enforcement rules against headshots and more prevention of concussions. The veteran journalist is an outspoken critic of those who do nothing.

That includes the NHL, which is the main focus of his television work. McKenzie's oldest son Mike is a 21-year-old senior at St. Lawrence University (NCAA) in Canton, N.Y. Four years ago, a concussion cost him three months of a season but he has recovered with no further symptoms or blows to the head.


McKenzie's youngest son Shawn, 18, hasn't been so lucky. From falling off monkey bars and rollerblades, to horseplay around the pool, to being cross-checked in lacrosse and smacked in the head at hockey, he has had many concussions and his symptoms, including headaches and a lack of concentration have not gone away.

Shawn has had to quit organized hockey.

His dad still has trouble believing some of the things he's experienced at the minor-hockey level, calling many of those involved "willfully ignorant."

Once at one of his son's tournaments, he saw a rival player throwing up before a game. He had been hit in the head earlier in the day.

"His parents wanted him to play, but the coach of that team was aware he got dinged and wouldn't let him play and the parents were mad," McKenzie says. "They just said he had the flu. That's not uncommon.

"Parents are sometimes the worst offenders with their own kids. Or it's not uncommon for minor hockey coaches to say the kid's fine.

"I don't want brand everyone like that, like they're malicious or they're not paying attention. There is more realization. It's just that some people don't have a clue, some have a clue but want to pretend it's not happening."

The folly that head-shots occur in so many places in hockey, and that so many people don't think they're alarming has been eating away at McKenzie.

"I did get to the point where I thought this was stupid," says McKenzie. "It's happening with too great a frequency, that people were getting hit hard in the head too often in too many circumstances at all levels of the game.

"It just can't keep going on at this rate because there's going to be a terrible day of reckoning. We've got to re-think how hitting is in hockey and what the standards are."

Keen to see hockey culture change to a point where blows to the head are simply not acceptable, McKenzie thinks that culture can change with or without the NHL.

He knows some experts disagree with him that the NHL can lead the way and that by its authentication power, everyone down the line will emulate it.

"I get that but I think you're trying to move too much of a mountain there," McKenzie says.

He thinks the grass-roots level can and should lead the way, that minor hockey's strict penalties and zero-tolerance for shots to the head and hits from behind — even though there's worry some officials and leagues are getting slack in those departments — can effect change up the line.

"There needs to be a greater emphasis on both of those things, really go zero-tolerance," McKenzie says, "That's where you start. Then you get to the junior levels and the major junior levels."

The major-junior Ontario Hockey League has already done that, implementing specific rules banning contact to the head. Canada's two other major-junior leagues, the Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, have not changed rules but have implemented a strict vigilance on those kinds of checks.

The QMJHL, in fact, made a bold statement by banning Patrice Cormier for the rest of the season and playoffs for just such a blow to the head.

McKenzie says he does not believe NHL rules should be as strict as those at various amateur and minor-hockey levels.

"I'll still give it to them (the NHL) whenever I think there's an injustice, but I've come to realize that the NHL needs to have different standards than minor hockey, junior hockey, college hockey, at all those levels where the vast majority of players are never going to make a living at the game," he says.

"The NHL should be inherently more risky and dangerous than those other levels. I'm not saying I'm in favour of NHL players getting their blocks knocked off. I don't like the (Mike) Richards hit on (David) Booth today any more than I liked it when it happened. But the standard should probably different in professional sports than anywhere else."

Philadelphia's Richards clobbered Florida's Booth with a blind-side hit to the head last Oct. 24, causing Booth to miss 45 games with a concussion.

NHL GM's have been talking about that hit and others this week as they try to address rule or disciplinary changes involving dangerous hits to the head. McKenzie says he's gratified that action may be imminent but that he plans to keep beating the drum for more common sense and more concussion prevention.

"Booth had no idea Richards was coming, he was coming from the blind side and he hits him only in one place, the head with his shoulder," McKenzie says. "Most people said that's not right.

"I had a few GMs say to me, 'All I could think about was what if that was my kid?' That's how you have to look at it, because he's somebody's kid."




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