CALGARY – Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron reserved judgement on the hit that concussed young Carolina Hurricanes forward Brandon Sutter, but Bergeron speaks from experience when he says NHL players must consider the consequences of their actions on the ice.
Bergeron’s head was slammed into the end boards just over a year ago by Philadelphia’s Randy Jones. Bergeron was knocked unconscious.
His concussion not only wiped out the rest of the talented forward’s NHL season, but he also lost quality of life for the next six weeks because he initially had trouble just getting out of bed, let alone make meals for himself.
Driving a car or even watching television was out of the question because Bergeron was sensitive to light. He says he didn’t feel normal again until April.
The NHL suspended Jones for two games.
Doug Weight’s open-ice check of Sutter on Saturday was legal under NHL rules and the New York Islanders forward was not penalized. Sutter was reaching for the puck with his head exposed and low to the ice.
But the 19-year-old lying stunned on the ice in just his seventh NHL game lit the flame under the debate over how the league addresses hits to the head.
Even though Bergeron fell victim to one of the worst, he’s of the opinion players have to police themselves.
“I think we need to, as players, to think about the consequences when you go for a hit,” Bergeron said Thursday prior to Boston’s game against Calgary.
“Playing hard is one thing and I’m all for it for a physical game. The reasons you go for a hit is to get the puck back. You’ve got to realize sometimes you’ve got to play the puck once in awhile.”
The 23-year-old from Ancienne-Lorette, Que., has seen the hit on Sutter and wouldn’t comment on it specifically.
“It’s hard to know what guys are thinking, but I don’t think anyone wants to hurt anyone on the ice,” Bergeron said. “The equipment is so hard now too. We have to think about all those things too, but don’t take away the physical game because that’s part of it and it’s fun.”
The Ontario Hockey League, which features players 16 to 20 years old, penalizes any hits to the head and Bergeron applauds that measure.
“I think it’s great, especially in junior and minor hockey,” he said. “There’s absolutely no point to (hits to the head). The injuries are pretty bad that can happen to the head and you only have one, right?
“The NHL and the players’ association are trying to get rid of it as much as they can, but I think it’s up to the players to be responsible on the ice and think about consequences.”
Bruins head coach Claude Julien warned against a knee-jerk reaction to Saturday’s incident.
“The hit to Brandon Sutter, his head was three feet from the ice and are we going to start telling guys not to hit?” Julien said. “It’s a pretty fast game and sometimes we’re talking about a fraction of a second. That becomes a pretty touchy subject.
“When you look at guys hitting with their elbows up or even shoulders to the head when a guy is standing up, I think there’s a difference there. But this has been an exciting game because it has contact in it as well. We need to be careful how we address that.”
Bergeron watched video of Jones checking him into the boards to try to remember what happened because he initially couldn’t.
“I don’t think there was a point to that hit. It was from behind and it’s unfortunate,” Bergeron said. “I lost a year last year.”
Bergeron was a candidate for Canada’s Olympic team in 2010 prior to the concussion.
He’s played for Canada at the 2005 and 2006 world championship and also in the 2005 world junior championship, in which he was the leading scorer and MVP. He was the first player to win a world championship before a world junior title, which he did at age 18 and 19 respectively.
Bergeron is getting his game timing back and wants to prove he’s the same player he was before the concussion. He netted his first goal in over a year last week when Boston faced Toronto.
“The game speed and all that stuff is what I need to adjust to the most,” Bergeron said. “All my skills are there. It’s matter of finding the back of the net pretty much.”