No place for head hits in the NHL


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If you are having trouble deciding if the shoulder-to-head hit by the Penguins' Matt Cooke on the Boston Bruins' Marc Savard Sunday at Mellon Arena was a dirty play or merely good, hard hockey, ask yourself two questions:

What if one of the Bruins had knocked the Penguins' Sidney Crosby unconscious with a similar hit and left him to be wheeled off the ice on a stretcher? Would you have screamed bloody murder?

I thought so.

Hits such as Cooke's with little more than 5 1/2 minutes left in the Penguins' 2-1 win have absolutely no place in hockey. He caught Savard -- the Bruins' best player -- with his left shoulder, leaving him momentarily unconscious. Savard never saw Cooke coming. After the game, Boston officials described his injury as a concussion and said he would spend the night in a Pittsburgh hotel as a precaution.

No penalty was called on Cooke, which left Boston coach Claude Julien flummoxed.

"It was pretty obvious that was definitely a dirty hit," he said. "It was a blindside hit to head. That's exactly what we're trying to get rid of. You couldn't ask for a better example.

"A guy like that has to be suspended."

That suspension for Cooke could come down as soon as today from the NHL. If it's not four games -- maybe more because Cooke is a repeat offender with the league -- it will be a surprise, not to mention just flat out wrong. Cooke was suspended for two games in late November for a hit to the head of New York Rangers winger Artem Anisimov. Over the years, he has built quite a reputation for being a dirty player.

"If it was Cooke, I'm not surprised," Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman said of the hit on Savard.

Certainly, the hit will be a topic of discussion when the NHL general managers open three days of meetings today in Boca Raton, Fla. On the agenda is a review of the work of a study group that has looked into how the league can eliminate blows to the head.

Dah!

The way you eliminate those hits is with consistent, harsh punishment to the perpetrators who dish them out.

How hard is that to understand?

But that consistency -- or, rather, the lack of it -- has been a major problem for the NHL. In October, for instance, Philadelphia Flyers winger Mike Richards knocked out the Florida Panthers' David Booth with a hit to the head that was every bit as vicious as Cooke's hit on Savard. Richards was not suspended.

Really, it's hard to blame the players for not knowing what is legal and what is not.

"At some point, there's going to have to be a clear-cut rule or clear-cut direction," Crosby said.

You would think, but it is the NHL that we're talking about.

As it is, the players all too often are forced to police the games themselves. That's sad. It's also frightening.

The Bruins couldn't retaliate Sunday because it was late in a one-goal game and they are desperate for every point they can get in the race to make the playoffs. But the teams play again in Boston March 18. Do you think the Bruins might try for a little justice? The frightening part is they probably won't do it by going after Cooke. They're more likely to go after Crosby or Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin. After all, Savard is the Bruins' star. Why should they just go after a role player?

The NHL has to end that stuff.

If it takes making an example of Cooke to do it, so be it.

Cooke seemed to realize a suspension is inevitable. "I just finished my check. It felt like shoulder to shoulder to me. I don't know ... " he said, quietly, his words trailing off.

Asked how he felt seeing Savard motionless on the ice, Cooke said, "You don't want to see anyone get hurt. I said sorry to him as best I could."

The hard truth?

Sorry isn't good enough in this case.

Sorry isn't ever good enough for a blatant hit to the head.

You disagree?

Ask yourself one more question:

Would you accept sorry on Crosby's behalf?




Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published March 8, 2010 5:00 AM


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