TORONTO – As family, friends and teammates grieve the death of a 21-year-old Ontario hockey player who died three weeks after hitting his unprotected head on the ice during a fight, debate over events leading to his death continued Sunday – debate one hockey commentator said isn’t delving deep enough.
Don Sanderson, a defenceman for the Ontario Hockey Association’s Whitby Dunlops, died Friday after he went into a coma following a tussle with Corey Fulton of the Brantford Blast during a Dec. 12 game at the Brantford Civic Centre.
Hundreds of people attended visitation for Sanderson on Sunday ahead of his funeral Monday morning (at 11 a.m.) at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in his hometown of Port Perry, Ont., northeast of Toronto.
“There certainly is a real sense of loss (in the community) of such a young person,” said Marilyn Pearce, mayor of Scugog Township, which encompasses Port Perry.
“I think that’s probably the overwhelming feeling…to see someone with all that potential…to lose them to something that may have been preventable.
“I’m sure the topic of conversation will be around the safety aspect of hockey helmets.”
Discussion about Sanderson’s death by members of the hockey community at the world junior hockey championship in Ottawa this week has also focused on helmet rules – which doesn’t go far enough, said Ken Campbell, a columnist with The Hockey News.
“There just doesn’t seem to be any sort of appetite for any sort of debate for whether we should take fighting out,” said Campbell, an opponent of fighting in hockey.
“I think it goes more beyond just…do we kick players out for fighting and dealing with the culture of violence that seems so prevalent in the game as well,” he said.
Tributes for Sanderson and messages of condolence to his family continued to be expressed over the weekend.
At Saturday night’s NHL game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators at the Air Canada Centre, players from both teams tapped their sticks on the ice as Sanderson was shown on the videoboard.
Commentator Don Cherry also mentioned Sanderson and offered condolences to his parents in his “Coaches’ Corner” segment on CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcast Saturday.
Scores of messages have been posted on pages set up on the social networking website Facebook, with comments from people as far away as Norway and Switzerland.
The Whitby Dunlops’ team website has posted its own brief video tribute to Sanderson, and a “DS 40” decal that players will sport on their helmets in memory of their teammate. A special ceremony will also be held at the Dunlops next home game on Jan. 17.
One of Sanderson’s teams last season, the Junior ‘C’ Georgina Ice, held a moment of silence before their game Saturday night, said general manager John Jamieson.
They planned to post the number 3, which Sanderson wore last year, above the bench during the team’s game in Port Perry on Sunday.
At the same time, police in Brantford have opened an investigation into Sanderson’s death, said Staff Sgt. Steve Sumsion.
Video footage and eyewitness accounts of the skirmish that led to Sanderson’s death suggest his helmet fell off as Sanderson and Fulton tumbled to the ice.
“A police investigation such as this, at the direction of the coroner, is standard practice and procedure,” Sumsion said.
Junior leagues are much more likely to take action on fighting than the pros because parents entrust them to provide a safe environment for their children to play in, Campbell said.
Indeed, the NHL has indicated it has no plans to alter its rules in the wake of Sanderson’s death.
“Its an issue that from time to time is a point of discussion, so this may prompt further discussion. But I don’t sense a strong sentiment to change the rules we currently have relating to fighting.” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly in an email sent to Campbell on Friday.
OHA president Brent Ladds said the issues arising from the death of Sanderson, who received four fighting majors in the 11 games he played with Whitby this season, will be raised at his organization’s next monthly board meeting.
League rules state that helmets approved by the Canadian Standards Association must be worn and fastened securely with a chin strap, and already stipulate automatic game misconducts for players who fight.
Jamieson anticipates all issues raised by Sanderson’s death will be looked at seriously by all of the sport’s governing bodies, including in his league.
“I think there will be discussion because I think there will be something coming down from the Canadian Hockey Association,” Jamieson said.