CALGARY – Don Cherry says it is impossible to completely eliminate head injuries in hockey and the NHL should concentrate its efforts on doing away with blindside hits.
Head injuries have been increasingly in the headlines, with sidelined Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby a high-profile victim of a concussion.
“I should come out here if I was smart and be politically correct and go along with everybody who’s on TV, everybody who’s in the paper and say ‘Oh yes it’s terrible. We must get it out (of the game),’ and I’d look like a hero,” Cherry told reporters Friday at a news conference prior to appearing at a COLD-FX Salutes Hockey Moms luncheon.
But Cherry said Crosby’s injury was an accident and if the game is played the way it normally is then players are going to be at risk. He said whether you see a collision coming or not there will be a physical consequence.
“You can’t hit a guy straight on and not do something to his head. It’s physically impossible,” the “Hockey Night in Canada” commentator said.
“What I want to get out is blindside hits,” added Cherry. “That’s the killers. The one like (Pittsburgh’s Matt) Cooke did on (Boston’s Marc) Savard—he should have got 20 games. Any guy who does that blindside hit—the other guy doesn’t have a chance.”
Savard was injured in a Cooke hit on March 7, 2010. Savard didn’t return until the second round of the playoffs and missed the first 23 games of this season. He was shut down for the season after suffering his second concussion, against Colorado, in January.
Cooke was given with a four-game suspension earlier this month after hitting Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Fedor Tyutin from behind and crunching him face first into the boards.
Last year the NHL board of governors drafted a penalty for blindside head hits—known as Rule 48—which gives referees the ability to call a minor or major for any “lateral, back pressure or blindside hit” where the principal point of contact is the head.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the number of concussions caused by blindside hits is down this year but says concussions are up as a result of accidental or inadvertent collisions.
Cherry, who will be attending Sunday’s Heritage Classic between the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens, said the only way to prevent head injuries is to eliminate hitting altogether but that’s unlikely to happen.
He said more attention should be focused on those who are guilty of cheap shots instead of those who are just playing a normal brand of hockey.
“Blindside hits are the ones you should get—head first into the boards—that’s the guys you should go after.”