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Steigerwald: Head Shots and Weaponized Equipment Not a Concern for the NHL



Bryan Rust. By Michael Miller (Own work) | CC BY-SA 4.0

If Dion Phaneuf played for the Penguins you’d love him.

Especially if you’re old enough to have loved Ulf Samuelsson. He became a folk hero in Pittsburgh before he had finished his first game after coming over in a trade from the Hartford Whalers in March of 1992.

My brother Paul called him Jack Lambert on skates and it stuck. Jack Lambert takes us to the way-back of Pittsburgh sports but Phaneuf is every bit as much Jack as Ulf ever was.

Phaneuf’s not too popular in Pittsburgh right now because of the nasty hit he put on Penguins’ winger Bryan Rust in Game 2.

It was borderline dirty with at least Phaneuf’s toe over the border line.

It was a lot like Matt Niskanen’s hit on Sidney Crosby in the Capitals series. Not the hit itself but the obvious lack of interest in avoiding contact with the victim’s head.

Phaneuf could have avoided making contact with Ryan’s head but he wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to hurt him if he could.

That’s hockey.

What should be getting a lot of attention but probably won’t get any is the size and hardness of Phaneuf’s shoulder pads.

The NHL has been mumbling about doing something about weaponized shoulder and elbow pads for a few years now but Rust would probably tell you that not much has been done.

Hockey shoulder pads used to be for protecting players from flying pucks and to provide some padding for collisions with the boards.

There was a time when Phaneuf’s shoulder might be hurting more than Rust’s head on a hit like the one in Game 2.

The league softened elbow pads in 2003 and shoulder pads in 2011 by putting a little padding over the hard plastic shell.

Elbows and shoulders are still used as weapons.

Dr. Charles Tator, a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hopsital is a leading expert on concussions. He told the Toronto Globe and Mail back in 2011 that more had to be done.

“We should be changing the elbow pads and the shoulder pads so they go back to what they were meant to be. They defend the wearer not offend the opponent.”

So, come on NHL (and NFL for that matter) it ain’t brain surgery. Softer, smaller pads, fewer injuries.

And, by the way, anybody who has played hockey – and there are a few people working at the NHL office who have – knows that Phaneuf could have avoided hitting Rust in the head. If they were really serious about reducing head injuries there would have been a major penalty and maybe a suspension.

–The old goaltender did pretty well in Game 2, didn’t he? No not Marc-Andre Fleury. Yeah, he threw the 10th playoff shutout of his career and is 11th on the all time list in that category, but he was the young guy.

Senators goalie Craig Anderson will turn 36 the day after Game 4. Fleury, who will be 33 in November  is the second youngest of the Final 4 goaltenders. Anaheim Ducks’ goalie John Gibson, the kid from Whitehall, turns 24 in July.

Pekka Rinne who has the best goals against average and save percentage (overrated stats, I know) in the playoffs will turn 36 in November.

The point here, of course, is that the Penguins shouldn’t feel like they need to move Fleury because of his age.

Henrik Lundqvist, who had a good post season with the Rangers, turned 35 in March.

–Fleury’s given up one goal in his last nine regulation periods and stopped 85 of the last 87 shots he’s seen. This is the playoffs. That’s ridiculous.

–Hockey is a pretty rough sport. Wouldn’t it make sense to allow NHL teams to have players in reserve, who wouldn’t dress for the game, but could replace a player who is knocked out of a game with an injury?

–If you ever wondered why athletes and coaches often find it hard to take the media seriously, all you had to do was listen to the exchange between Senators coach Guy Boucher and a credentialed questioner at his Game 2 post game press conference.

Q: “Lots of people on Twitter were saying it was an ugly, boring game…

Boucher: “I don’t pay a lot of attention to Twitter.”

Q: “But did you think it was boring. Was it pleasing to watch?”

Boucher: “I wasn’t watching. I was coaching.”

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