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Head Hits Have No Place in Hockey

We need to take a break right now to address the glaring issue that came up in Game 7 of the Vegas/Vancouver series last night: another head hit. For those of you such as myself who sometimes experience second-hand pain, please be aware that there is a video to follow of the hit in question. 

The Hit

If you haven’t already heard, it will come of little to no surprise to you that Ryan Reaves once again gave out a hit to the head. He got a 5-minute major, 10-minute game misconduct, and was ejected from the game.

I cannot believe I actually have to do this, but some people on Twitter have proven to me that it is necessary to explain why that was a very bad check hit. Statsny had Motte covered. Motte was leaning away from the defenseman when Reaves comes in from an angle that does not give Motte any escape route to avoid being hit. Instead of slowing a little and turning sideways to use his full body to check Motte, Reaves leads with his shoulder. Motte’s head was at the same height as Reaves’s shoulder because of the bend in his knees. Let me be very clear about this: Reaves lowered and lead with his shoulder to make contact with Motte’s head.

A Breakdown

Okay, now here comes the part when I get controversial.

This hit was intentional. You can boo me all you want, I’ll stand by this statement

 Why do I think this was intentional? Well, first, as I’ve already said, Reaves lead with his shoulder, but that’s only the first part. When you watch the clip back, you’ll see that Motte was angled with his left shoulder pointing to center ice, leaving his entire side exposed. Reaves had plenty of time while he was gliding into the hit to make contact with almost any other part of his body—a clean play that still very effectively takes Motte’s body out of the play. If you want to see an example of this, here’s Alex Ovechkin:

Second, this is a pattern we’ve seen from Reaves for years. Reaves has been throwing around questionable checks and headshots for years. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Here he is in 2015 elbowing Kopitar in the face. Here he is in 2016 slamming Tennyson’s head into the boards; and then again in 2016 shouldering Ehrhoff in the face. Here he is in 2018 blindsiding Tom Wilson, barely missing his head. And in case you missed it, here he is in August nailing Schmaltz in the face during an exhibition match. Once is an accident, twice is poor judgment, more than that is a dangerous pattern.

Third, he’s not known for his compassion for players he has injured. Take for example, when he decided it was a good idea to autograph pictures of Tom Wilson down on the ice with a concussion Reaves gave him. Classy. He definitely feels bad about that.

Fourth, he had time. He. Had. Time. The game is fast, I get that. But this play was not fast enough to use that as an excuse. He committed to the hit and did not stop for even a fraction of a second to think about potential consequences.

Why This is a Big Deal

Look, my goal here is not to crucify Ryan Reaves. With the exception of the autograph incident, I have no qualms with him off the ice. What I want everyone to see is that there should not be hits like this in the game, ever. I’ll even double down by saying every suspension Tom Wilson has gotten because of his headshots are deserved. The difference between the two players in 2020 is that Wilson has shown signs of growth, having not been suspended for a bad hit since 2018; Reaves has had 2 different hits to the head in a month.

Humanity’s Vulnerability

The brain is not an organ to mess with. As someone who has undergone brain surgery, I know exactly how fragile it is. When it comes to the most fragile part of their bodies the NHL should be dedicated to the safety of their players. I can appreciate their efforts in doling out fines and suspensions, however, clearly, those punishments are not enough to deter some players from repeating past mistakes.

There needs to be a better appreciation of just how sensitive brains can be not only in the NHL but in all development leagues from toddlers on. The fastest skaters in the league are going upwards of 25 miles an hour; two players coming at each other full speed is like getting in a car accident at 50 miles an hour. People can die from that kind of impact if hit directly in the head.

And let’s not forget the risks of getting multiple concussions, especially when one occurs before the last one has fully healed (some former NHLers have admitted to coming back before healed for a variety of reasons). Sidney Crosby, the player who gets drooled on the most by the League, is one more bad concussion away from having to hang up his skates. Repeated concussions cause permanent damage to the brain that can lead to memory loss, trouble concentrating, mood swings or personality changes, constant sensitivity to light and sound, and a laundry list of psychological disorders. That should absolutely not be the way the NHL, fans, or any decent human being want former hockey players to live the rest of their lives.

Money Moves

If the NHL doesn’t want to be concerned about the health and safety of their players, they should at least be worried about the financial damage from reckless checks to the head. How many fans would be willing to stick around if top players like Crosby, McDavid, Matthews, etc. were all forced into retirement from concussions caused by such hits? I certainly wouldn’t. Fans want to see their favorite teams and players score points, not kill each other.

Let me make myself abundantly clear: checks to the head are not equivalents of fighting. Fights are between two consenting players, mutually willing to get hit in the face. Checks to the head are unwarranted and dangerous.

Final Words

You can call me soft. If my concern for the health and safety of athletes I love watching play makes me soft, then so be it. Dangerous plays and hits pose a real risk to not just careers, but lives. These guys have families to go home to, some have kids that want to be just like their dads. I don’t want future generations of hockey players thinking it’s okay to hit somebody in the head during a game for any reason. I also don’t want them to think that this is an okay reaction to watching someone get hurt on the ice.

The bottom line for me is that there is not a person on the face of this earth on whom I would wish head trauma; there’s not a soul who deserves debilitating headaches or migraines. 

I wish nothing but the best for Tyler Motte going forward; I hope there are no lasting effects from that hit. Reaves should be ashamed not only for his actions on the ice but also for his reaction on his way to the locker room. As for the Knights, I hope they get swept.

-Heidi Thomas (@DamselOnDrums)

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Heidi Thomas

Armchair hockey coach, passive horse racing fan, full-time dog referee.

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