December 17, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Commentary: Hockey Needs to Be Tougher on Illegal Hits

by Virg Foss/Staff Writer

At the bi-monthly meeting of retired coaches, administrators and various others involved in sports through their lifetimes that I attend, a surprising voice brought up an interesting topic.

Considering that the man used to coach basketball and never taught violence to his teams, his suggestion was especially noteworthy.

"If I coached college hockey," he said, "I'd take my worst player and send him out to fight the best player on the other team, getting him out of the game," he said. "I'd take that trade-off any day."

He ignited a topic that has been boiling inside me for some time now, the relatively free pass given to players in college hockey who inflict grave harm upon an opponent.

It was that same anger that prompted this mild-mannered basketball coach to flip over the edge with his suggestion.

+ A few years ago, Denver's Geoff Paukovich delivered a pulverizing, illegal check from behind into the boards to UND's Robbie Bina. The hit broke Bina's neck, took him out of hockey for a year, and who knows what limitations he'll face later in life. ... Paukovich, who drew only a minor penalty on the play, was later given a game suspension by his school, one more by the league. Big hairy deal, I say.

+ Last year, Minnesota State's Trevor Breuss slew-footed UND's Derrick LaPoint into the end boards, smapping the leg of LaPoint and ending his season. Breuss received a slap on the wrist from the WCHA, much like Paukovich.

+ This season, St. Cloud State's Aaron Marvin tracked UND's Chay Genoway the length of the ice, delivering an illegal high hit, smashing Genoway's head into the glass and leaving him knocked senseless on the ice with a concussion.

Marvin got an additional game suspension from the WCHA. Genoway, one of the league's most dynamic players, hasn't played since the Nov. 13 hit. Coaches are not sure when — or if — his reported concussion will clear this season.

It bugs me no end that players such as Bina, LaPoint and Genoway can be knocked out of action for a spell, a season, or maybe forever and the players who inflict the injuries skate away relatively unscathed.

Something's wrong with the rules of college hockey, folks. That players can be seriously injured with little consequence to the violators alters not only their careers, but the fortunes of their teams.

A league championship, perhaps a national title, can be taken away in a blink by a reckless hit, whether intent to harm was there or not.

I use the examples of Bina, LaPoint and Genoway only because they are the players I'm more familiar with, seeing UND play far more than any other team. Similar examples can be found throughout college hockey.

I don't have a ready solution. I wish I did. But I do believe it's a matter that seriously needs to be addressed by coaches and administrators, and soon.

If Bina misses a season, should the player who injured him have to sit out a season as well? Should Marvin be put on the shelf until and if Genoway returns, for example?

That's a sticky issue, no doubt. It's impossible for officials to judge intent to injure. We all know our refs have a difficult enough time enforcing the black-and-white rules correctly. We can't ask them to be mind readers.

But clearly something is wrong when players receive broken necks and legs and serious concussions. It's unthinkable that the players who cause those injuries are being told nothing more than to go stand in the corner for a game or two.

Hockey is a physically rugged and at times dangerous sport. Players, coaches, fans, we all know that. Perhaps that's part of the beauty of it.

But when there aren't serious consequences for damaging, perhaps life-changing injuries, hockey is failing those who play the sport they love.

Of that I am certain.

Virg Foss, who wrote sports for the Grand Forks Herald for 36 years until his retirement, writes a weekly column for the Grand Forks Herald.

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