Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Not Using Their Heads

It’s that time of year in the National Hockey League. The games are starting to mean more with the playoffs in sight. A lot is at stake as teams start to position themselves for the hunt of Lord Stanley’s Cup. The hits have picked up too.

There have been a slew of injuries and bad publicity surrounding the League going into this years post season. As the game becomes more physical, the importance of equipment still seems to be overlooked in the NHL. Players are getting hurt because of big hits and poor use of their equipment.

Buffalo’s Chris Drury received 20 stitches to his head after being hit by Ottawa’s Chris Neil. The stitches and the concussion were less from Neil’s hit and more from Drury’s head slamming into the ice as a result from it. Drury’s helmet flew off with surprising ease when Drury’s head hit the ice.

Capitals’ Donald Brashear, then resident tough guy for Vancouver, is used to getting a slash or a hit to lure the big guy into a fight. Marty McSorely’s slash to the head was no different. The swipe from behind by McSorely caught the enforcer off guard and he fell backwards. As he did his helmet slid forward easily, exposing the back of Brashear’s head as it slammed into the ice.

These examples are a constant that I am seeing in the NHL. Players are not wearing their helmets as they should. Drury and Brashear’s helmets were too big for them. Their helmets slid off with ease. Players are sustaining injuries from wearing their helmets incorrectly.

The more I paid attention to the situation, the more I have seen players wearing helmets that are too big, or too small. All helmets come with ear protection out of the box. It’s a small plastic shell that covers the ear and side of the head exposed by the rest of the helmet. But hardly any player in the NHL has them on their helmets. This isn’t a situation where the player’s equipment fails them, but rather they fail to wear their equipment in the right manner.

Many times a player is hit heavily into the boards and their helmet slips forward or back, exposing the players head to the elements. It’s a common occurrence during any NHL game if one pays attention to it. Those hits could result in serious injury to a player that is wearing their helmet more for comfort rather than protection.

In the NCAA Frozen Four tournament, it’s even more apparent that players are wearing their equipment incorrectly. Face mask’s, which are required in the college ranks, are always loose. They are rarely strapped to the helmet correctly, exposing the player’s chin and face and making the helmet loose and susceptible to flying off after a big hits and resulting in injuries.

As the NHL considers tougher penalties for players hitting high to the head, it should also start mandating the correct use of the helmet. If Chris Drury’s helmet was fit on him, his helmet would have stayed on his head when he made impact with the ice. His injury would have been significantly reduced. The same with Donald Brashear’s helmet, and if he had the ear protectors, perhaps he would not been as stunned after McSorely’s slash, keeping the big guy on his feet instead of falling backward.

Just about every helmet licensed in the NHL is adjustable to fit any size noggin. There really should not be any excuses here. Even enforcers, who usually wear their helmets loosely so they can slip off easily during a fight, should be made to wear their helmets correctly. Even if it’s to set an example to younger players that wearing hockey equipment in the right way is important and saves players from serious injury.

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