Will it take a death to stop dangerous hits?

Glen R. Goodhand, Lindsay, Ont.

Steve Dryden, managing editor of the Hockey News, headlined his editorial in the Nov. 22, 1991 issue with: “Marshall Plan: Stop hits from behind.”

His passionate appeal was due to a recent hit into the boards by the Maple Leafs’ Bob Rouse on Calgary’s Gary Roberts. The latter was removed from the ice on a spinal board with numbness in his arms and shoulders.

The incident reminded him of a Dec. 4, 1990 hit from behind by Jason Young on Grant Marshall during a junior game between the Sudbury Wolves and the Ottawa 67’s.

Marshall’s neck was broken and it was, at first, believed he would never play hockey again. The victim’s comments included: “There is no more cowardly act in hockey than cross-checking and hitting from behind.”

In 1968, the North Stars’ Bill Masterton died as a result of hitting his unprotected head on the ice. After 12 years, the NHL finally ruled that players entering the league would be required to don helmets.

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Twenty years have passed since the Marshall incident and still the world’s premier circuit’s big wigs are undecided about what to do about blindsiding and hits into the boards from behind.

In Masterton’s day it was considered “unmanly” to wear head protection and it took a death to ultimately correct that muddy thinking.

In 2010, the fear is that players will be reluctant to “finish their checks” if rules are too strict about the use of the body (apparently that includes elbows as well).

Will it take a death or permanent paralysis to clear the 20-year fog from the heads of the league’s powers-that-be concerning this issue?