The offensive team is cycling the puck deep in the zone, the defenders are forced to react and hope for a miscue...the puck squirts free and the defender banks the puck off the side wall. From the minute the puck caroms off the boards, it looks questionable whether or not it will make it to the end line.
This is a very important game and two players are hustling for the puck - one to force icing, the other to negate it. Stride-for-stride the opposing players race towards the end line, suddenly, one player trips and the unthinkable happens. In one tragic and surreal moment, a 23 year old rising Superstar's skates slam, feet-first, into the end boards. His right heel is shattered to the point where numerous orthopedists claimed that the extent of the injury is likened only to that of a high rise construction worker who might have fallen from great heights.
The year was 1996. The location was Igloo in Pittsburgh, PA. The Superstar-in-waiting was a young Washington Capital in the midst of a playoff series, named Pat Peake
. This junior hockey phenom and #14 pick in the first round of the 1991 entry draft would miss 67 games of the 1996-97 season due to extensive and numerous surgeries to try to reconstruct his mangled heel. The 1993 Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year, Pat Peake, retired from hockey at the age of 25. Truly a regrettable and entirely preventable incident.
Junior hockey has the answer. The European professional leagues understand. The ECHL and the Central Hockey League and most all amateur league the world over do as well. The answer, as much as the AHL and NHL might hate to admit it, is the simple idea of No-Touch Icing
Automatic icing is an idea whose time has come. The race for icing, while mildly entertaining, is quite dangerous when you consider the size, speed and intensity with which today's players go after the puck. The original icing rule was instituted in 1939 - yes the same year as Hitler marched into Czechoslovakia. I think it is a safe bet that the average player in 1939 that was envisioned heading towards the end boards with one of his mates was not 6'3" and 220 pounds. Most every player fits that description today.
There are those who would argue that going to automatic icing would take the intensity and battle out of the game in some way. Perhaps, but when weighed against the potential for the sport to lose someone the likes of Ovechkin or Crosby or Kopitar or Iginla - the argument of 30 seconds of lost intensity seems a little specious.
How can you expect players going close to 30 miles per hour and playing at 110% to ease up to ensure that legs do not get tangled or heads do not get slammed against an unforgiving end board. You cannot. For that reason, the league must do it for them. I am not talking about removing any of the physicality from the game, just the unnecessary pursuit of the puck where the end result upon winning is a faceoff. I know those faceoffs can potentially lead to game tying/winning goals. They can also end up with career threatening consequences. I am not out here crying that the sky is falling...all I am asking is for each of us to weigh the potential gain versus the potential harm to the player and the game.
For those who steadfastly argue that a race to icing is needed to preserve the "sanctity of the game" (to borrow a baseball term), then fine. Make it a race to the end line...not to the puck.
The race to the end line would allow those teams who are faster defensively to maintain their advantage and try to ward off the icing call. This would keep the game moving, reduce the potential for injury found as players vector in for the puck and keep a semblance of the "old ways."
Love him or hate him, Don Cherry has been out in front of this issue for eons. In his mind, the safety of the players and the longevity of their careers is paramount. I wholeheartedly agree. I am quite sure there are just as many people who think I ought to have my head examined - they might be right. One thing I do know, is that I don't want to have to explain to my 3 year old, Jake, why a star player that everyone wants to see (or even a 4th liner) had to give up his dream of playing NHL hockey because he permanently injured himself trying to touch up a puck.
We don't need any more Pat Peaks.
Thanks for reading...