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Like it or not, bodychecks are integral to game
Mark Spector, National Post
Published: Thursday, October 19, 2006

What if NASCAR outlawed car wrecks because too many drivers were getting injured? Would racing fans still flock to the track, or tune in on TV to watch a bunch of drivers make their way politely around the track, trying not to scratch the paint job?

What if whiplash cases began to add up, and the football leagues outlawed blind-side hits on the quarterback? Or if defensive backs had to refrain from contact until the receiver had both feet on the ground, lest another Darryl Stingley -- paralyzed on a vicious hit by the Raiders' Jack Tatum in 1978 -- occur?

Yesterday morning, as the highlight of Calgary defenceman Robyn Regehr's textbook body check on Montreal's Aaron Downey played over and over on the morning reels, so too did the aftermath, Parts I and II.

On TV was Part I: Downey, his Betty Rubble eyes staring into nowhere, fully concussed and making his way to a waiting ambulance. He might play again next week. He might never play again.

Part II played out at NHL headquarters, as the elephant in the boardroom shuffled his feet, and the question was raised once again: What are we going to do about hits to the head?

"The question has come up at Board of Governor meetings, 'Where are we on this right now ...?" admits NHL vice president Colin Campbell. He has also spoken with David Branch, head of Canadian junior hockey, about the evolution of this year's rule change in the Ontario Hockey League, where any hit that strikes an opponent's head is being penalized.

There are some obvious cases where hits to the head are unnecessary. Leaving one's feet, or sticking out an elbow, glove or stick to get to an opponent's head are all obvious examples.

But the Regehr hit? What would you have him do differently, other than not throw it at all?

The fashionable comparison is being made to football, where shots to a quarterback's head have been banned. That analogy doesn't work however.

In football a tackler aims to bury his shoulder into the thigh, hips or belly of the ball carrier and grab on with both arms. Ask Bryan Marchment how that gridiron tenet "get low" worked for him. And as for grabbing on, well, you get two minutes these days for a two-hand touch.

In football, the ball carrier spends little concentration on controlling the ball. It's in his hands, and not a going concern. In hockey, control of the object is more precarious. It's out in front of the puck carrier, bouncing along some five or six feet away at the end of his stick. That's why the head of a 6-foot-4 Lindros is often about five feet off the ice when he's reaching for a puck, why sometimes players have their heads down, and why the head leads the body to become the first body part that big Scott Stevens runs into.

It's simply not like that in football.

You can play hockey without ever having a hit like the one Regehr threw, but you will forfeit the big open-ice hits that make the game special. And there will be residual effects of eliminating that part of the game, which is where Campbell comes in again. He gets paid not only to suggest rule changes, but to correctly forecast the ripple effect they will have.

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