The left wing looks up ice and sees the opposing right wing has a step on the defense in a chase for the puck. There are two defensemen on the play; neither has a hit. One misses a poke at the puck. The left wing fears a breakaway. He accelerates through neutral ice, pushes himself over the blue line and into the attacking zone, eyes on his target. The right wings head is down, eyes only for the puck, wary of the defensemen but focused. He doesnt see the left wing coming in for a backcheck. He loses the puck for a second just above the slot, so close to the goal and reaches forward for it. Hes suddenly turned to the incoming left wing. Daniel Paille, the left wing, has committed to contact. He had decided on a play on the shoulder and follows through. Raymond Sawada, the opposing right wing, gets punched out of his stride and knocked backwards. He puts his arms out to brace the impact of his head and shoulders smacking on the ice, his legs flying up in the air. He slides on his back, then over onto his belly toward the goal. Daniel Paille in redirected momentum -- narrowly avoids a collision with one of his own defenseman. "Solid check," thinks Paille.
The play takes five seconds. It earns Paille a four-game suspension.
The 26-year-olds backcheck is an illegal hit under Rule 48, which prohibits a lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted andor is the principle point of contact . . . His five-minute major and game-misconduct penalties were standard; the suspension, supplemental. The discipline was part of the NHLs effort at a zero-tolerance policy for hits to the head.
Afterwards, controversy erupted . . . but completely off topic. On network television in Canada (Don Cherry) and the United States (Mike Milbury), the incident was painted as Andrew Ference (It was a bad hit) against the supposed majority (Its just going to happen) in the Bruins clubhouse.
Ference is amazed his comments got so much attention in trying to find a locker-room schism. He feels the focus should be on concussive contact, teammate or not.
No matter what sport any sport, even without contact therell be concussions," Ference says. The issues that the leagues dealing with are the ones that are preventable, the ones that are dangerous.
When discussing concussions, its not unusual for the focus to be off topic.
The NHL picked up concussion research after 1994, when the NFL began its own in earnest. It gained traction publicly when high-profile stars Pat LaFontaine (retired in 1998) and Eric Lindros (2007) had their careers clipped by concussions. LaFontaines symptomal depression is well documented; Lindros is rumored to be a shell of himself. The list of casualties has since been populated by other big names Sidney Crosby and Marc Savard, most notably. Each is painstakingly detailed by the media and sent to the masses.
Concussions are an issue in any sport . . . even in what are thought to be non-contact sports, like soccer. (See: Taylor Twellman.) But lost in the new awareness of the dangers of head injuries is this fact: Instances of concussions gone catastrophically wrong are rare.
NEXT: Are there more concussions, or more awareness of concussions?