Trip on Schenn makes case for no-touch icing
Saturday’s annual Hockey Hall of Fame game at Air Canada Centre between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens was an exhibition of high-flying offensive action, which included pair of comebacks by the Habs to even the score before the home side used its blinding speed to seal the victory with three straight goals.
While the matchup was marred by Tom Kostopoulos’ hit from behind on Leafs defenceman Mike Van Ryn, an equally dangerous play – while not resulting in injury – provided evidence that one of the league’s well-meaning initiatives to protect the safety of its players is not working sufficiently.
Late in the first period, Montreal’s Andrei Kostitsyn attempted to negate an icing with an aggressive forecheck in one corner of the Leafs zone. In the process, Kostitsyn tripped up promising Leafs rookie rearguard Luke Schenn, dangerously sending the freshman hard into the end boards. Luckily Schenn was able to shake off the trip without further incident, save for a minor penalty assessed to Kostitsyn on the play.
Nevertheless, the play illustrated an example of the potential for more serious injury, as advocated by long-time proponents of the no-touch icing rule, including CBC’s Don Cherry and Leafs head coach Ron Wilson.
“There were a few dangerous situations (in the game),” Wilson said. “The one that was scarier was Luke crashing into the boards. The league will look at this stuff and decide what they have to do.”
At the beginning of the season, the NHL Board of Governors made an attempt to address the long-time concern of injuries sustained as a result of racing for the puck on icing.
Falling just shy on implementing no-touch icing in which the play is blown dead immediately after the puck crosses the goal line, the league revised Rule 81.1 to include the clause:
“Any contact between opposing players while pursuing the puck on an icing must be for the sole purpose of playing the puck and not for eliminating the opponent from playing the puck. Unnecessary or dangerous contact could result in penalties being assessed to the offending player.”
The catalyst for the rule revision undoubtedly was the incident last season in which San Jose’s Torrey Mitchell pushed Minnesota’s Kurtis Foster into the boards as the two players tried to outrace each other on an icing. Foster was carried from the ice on a stretcher in a vividly morbid scene played out at the HP Pavilion. The soon-to-be 27-year-old defenceman had surgery to repair a broken femur and has yet to suit up for a game since the injury.
Wilson, who was behind the Sharks bench at the time, iterated his position in favour of no-touch icing following the play in which his own player delivered the incapacitating hit. “We shouldn’t have those kinds of car wrecks,” Wilson had said. “For all the times you might have somebody beat a guy to a puck on an icing, it doesn’t ever offset a situation where two guys collide and somebody gets hurt.”
The NHL’s infirmary has been historically visited by players who have suffered serious, often career-threatening injuries as a result of plays that could have been avoided if no-touch icing were in place. The list includes Al MacInnis, Mark Tinordi, Marco Sturm and Glen Wesley. Wilson’s current team, the Leafs, is not immune from the epidemic. Last season Alexei Ponikarovsky missed three weeks with dislocated shoulder sustained in an icing foot race against Steve Eminger, then of the Washington Capitals.
The most profound injury suffered in an icing negation attempt was by former Canadian Major Junior Hockey Player of the Year, Pat Peake in 1996. A 1991 first-round draft pick of Washington, Peake shattered his heel in a collision with Pittsburgh’s J.J. Daigneault. The injury proved to be career-ending as Peake was forced to hang up his skates at the age of 24.
Peake’s story, as well as the other documented instances of players needlessly placed on the shelf, makes it difficult to comprehend the NHL’s aversion to finally implementing the no-touch icing rule. Critics of the no-touch proposal, such as former Leafs bench boss Paul Maurice, argue that puck races create excitement, and should continue to be part of the game. “I think we need to find a way for on the icing races to out-law contact,” Maurice said in 2007. “I haven’t narrowed this down to what this means – what’s incidental, what’s accidental, what’s intentional – but I do think it’s almost a clearly defined event in a game. Players should be allowed to race for the puck.”
In spite of the varying opinions, there were 19,512 witnesses to Saturday’s tilt at Air Canada Centre that featured a game with high energy, speed, and creative playmaking, with goals produced as a result of either strong power-play execution, or chances off the rush. The game serves as a testament that excitement can be generated in the sport, independently of icing negation.
The absence of no-touch icing has left the game without the services of Kurtis Foster and Pat Peake.
Through good fortune, Luke Schenn did not become a member of that infamous list of shelved players on Saturday night.
Here’s hoping that the league does not wait until the next occurrence of a serious injury to institute the much-needed change.
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, a regular column at TMLfans.ca