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Injured Canucks defenceman says NHL not doing enough to penalize head shots

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

VANCOUVER - Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell isn't happy with the way the NHL has handled the head shot issue, saying some discipline should have been handed out for the hit that cut his season short.

"I am disappointed in the league, disappointed in Colin Campbell," Mitchell said Thursday of the NHL vice-president who handles all the league's discipline issues. "As we've seen (he's) been very inconsistent with how he's handled himself in those situations."

Mitchell spoke to the media Thursday for the first time since he suffered a concussion in a Jan. 16 game after a hit by Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins send him head first into the boards.

He suggested Campbell has been reluctant to suspend some players because of his relationship with NHL's general managers and owners.

"I think the league needs to, along with our players' union, take a look at how they run the discipline in the league," Mitchell said. "Colin Campbell had a lot of relationships with general managers and ownership and stuff like that. It's very tough to hand down decisions on matters like this when you are friends with people.

"It's something the league and players need to look at, to have an outside party handle the discipline in the league (so) it's consistent. As we've seen it hasn't been very consistent."

Campbell defended the league's actions.

"We in hockey operations, and particularly myself, take player safety and all player's actions very seriously," Campbell said in an email to The Canadian Press. "We have constantly reviewed supplemental discipline and head hits with the entire group of general managers at our GM's meetings to insure consistency.

"If Willie Mitchell would like to meet, I would welcome this and we could discuss all applications of supplemental discipline and discuss what he feels are our shortcomings."

Mitchell said Malkin should have been fined or suspended for his hit.

"I'm not happy with the hit I took," he said. "We're taught from a young age you don't hit from behind.

"I had my numbers facing a player in a dangerous zone and a dangerous spot and he hit me."

Campbell said the play was reviewed and "the hit did not require discipline."

Campbell was also surprised by Mitchell's criticisms.

"Willie Mitchell has been involved with me more than once in is own discipline situations so he should understand both sides of the equation," Campbell said.

The Canucks were eliminated from the Western Conference semifinal in six games by the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week and were cleaning out their locker Thursday.

Mitchell said he's still suffering symptoms from the concussion like headaches and pressure in his head. For a long time after the hit he was bothered by bright lights, loud noises and couldn't watch television.

The 33-year-old spoke slowly, with many pauses.

"It's been a long physical journey and an emotional journey," he said. "I am feeling much better than I was before. I am getting better every day. I've been trying to put myself in the best place possible to be in a healing environment."

Mitchell becomes a free agent this summer. He's not sure what his hockey future will be.

"I just want to be healthy," he said. "I am doing all the right things to be healthy."

Mitchell said he's rather have the league deal out justice for head shots than have the players even the score.

"Back in the day players regulated that," he said. "We all know that has changed.

"Society doesn't want it, players don't want it. Who has to regulate it? It's Colin Campbell. He has to regulate it."

Ironically, it was a crunching, open-ice hit by Mitchell that resulted in Chicago's Jonathan Toews suffering a concussion in October. Toews missed six games.


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