Commentary: Enough is Enough on Hits From Behind
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
It wasn't long ago that dangerous hits from behind in hockey were quite rare.
While in college, I covered Minnesota State hockey for three years. Over that span, I missed perhaps one home game and would travel to away games a few times per season. I don't think it's a stretch to say I'd see maybe three or four checking from behind majors in a season — at least with my own two eyes.
This was during the mid-to-late 2000s, so this is by no means a "when I was young..." kind of story.
Friday night, I settled down in the living room to take in one of the more epic nights of WCHA television in recent memory. At one point, I had access to four games at once. Needless to say, I was doing plenty of channel surfing.
In the four hours I watched games that night, I witnessed two checking from behind majors live. Another happened in the MSU-Wisconsin game I was not watching at that particular moment. That's three — in one night.
Lately, it seems at least one team in every game will get the benefit of a 5-minute power play at some point in the night. Certainly, officials are being directed to more vigilantly call these hits as majors. But it goes beyond that, to a cultural shift that has taken place. Unfortunately, with those odds, it's only a matter of time before we see another devastating injury caused by one of these hits.
The problem I have with these hits is how brazenly and overtly dirty many of them are.
Take the hit by North Dakota's Danny Kristo on Minnesota's Ben Marshall on Friday night. Argue all you want folks, Kristo went into the corner with an intent to cause some damage. Was he trying to paralyze Marshall? Absolutely not. But judging by the forearm to the back of the head Kristo also gave Marshall, this was no garden variety check. Was it anger? Was it frustration? Is there a history here? Only one person knows for sure.
His reaction to his game misconduct aside, Kristo deserved being tossed from that game. He also deserves a suspension, and a lengthy one at that. Unfortunately, he won't receive one.
North Dakota fans will crow about that assessment, but these are the same people that said the suspension of St. Cloud State's Aaron Marvin a couple of years back for his check from behind on Chay Genoway was too short. And I agree with them. Any check that has an intent to injure needs to be handled swiftly and harshly. By looking at the replay, there is no way to say there wasn't intent on the part of Kristo.
And until college hockey — no, all of hockey — wants to start handing out suspensions for checks from behind, this type of behavior will continue. In today's SportsCenter culture where guys are trying their damnedest to flatten someone, a clear message needs to be sent: Such behavior will not be tolerated. Ever.
Checking, at its purest form, was once used to separate a man from the puck. Now, it's used as a way to fire up the crowd and his teammates. In some cases, it's used to send a message.
The message Kristo sent Friday night was a clear one. And for the record, the puck was long gone when he hit Marshall from behind.
This isn't meant to pick solely on Kristo either. In the same series 24 hours later, Minnesota's Tom Serratore checked North Dakota's Andrew MacWilliam from behind and was assessed a minor for charging. This should have been a check from behind. Just a couple of minutes later, teammate Mark Alt was booted — and rightfully — for a check from behind.
It's this kind of reckless behavior — and its cousin, head hits — that can simply no longer be tolerated. It adds nothing to the game, and by cracking down on it, takes nothing away from it. My solution: Instead of a game misconduct, start by making it a game disqualification, thereby forcing the offending player to sit an additional game. There needs to be a system in place to crack down on repeat offenders too.
Start assessing these penalties as game disqualifications and I promise guys will start thinking twice about laying someone out from behind. In the mean time, it'd be nice if coaches took some initiative and sat down a guy for a dangerous hit. It sends a message to a player that he is not only accountable to the league, but also to his team.
There is no place in college hockey for checks from behind. I hope something is done, and done soon, before it costs someone a chance to live a normal life away from the rink.