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Fraser: Looking at Sens' Cowen's hit on Hurricanes' Skinner

Kerry Fraser
4/18/2013 2:14:06 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry Fraser wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!

Kerry,
 
I'm guessing you're getting pretty tired of talking about head shots, but Jared Cowen's hit on Jeff Skinner Tuesday deserves some attention, I would think. In real speed, it is difficult to tell if Cowen hits Skinner in the head, however upon slowing it down, it certainly appears Cowen makes contact to the head and the resulting concussion would also suggest it.

Could you please comment on the "no-call" on the ice but furthermore, could you please give us your opinion on "the code" as it stands in the NHL currently. The Hurricanes clearly felt there was an injustice done and sent Kevin Westgarth out to confront Cowen - Cowen obliged. In the 'old days,' that would have been the end of it, but the Hurricanes continued to target Cowen thoughout the game.
 
In your opinion, has "the code" changed/evolved/devolved over your years in the NHL?

Al Willig
 
Al:

I am far more tired of seeing hits where the head of an opponent becomes the principle point of contact than just talking about them! FYI, I write this column on the one year anniversary of commenting on Raffi Torres leaving his feet to make a head hit on Marian Hossa resulting in a 25 (minus 4) game suspension.

I have said time and time again that when a player elevates his posture prior to contact and especially when his skates leave the ice there is very good chance that the head will become the principle point of contact. It is only logical to assume that when a players drives upward toward his opponents head thereby creating greater velocity through the 'body check, 'it becomes a primary contributing factor to player concussions.  Players must be forced to keep their skates on the ice in an effort to drive through the body mass of their opponent as opposed to launching upward in an effort to hit one out of the park!

The hit by Jared Cowen on Jeff Skinner is illegal hit on two fronts. First Cowen left his feet to make the hit and should result in a charging penalty.

Secondly, through this "elevation" by the 6'5" Cowen, the head of Jeff Skinner, generously listed at 5'11," became the principle point of contact. Given the size differential, combined with the upward launch when Cowen's skates left the ice, it would be next to impossible for Skinner's head not to become the principle point of contact. Jeff Skinner became another concussion statistic for a bad hitting style that must be eliminated.
It is no longer acceptable for any of us to justify hits of this type as being 'good hockey hits' when the head becomes the principle point of contact. The NFL will most likely agree!

The Referees must be instructed to call charging every time a player leaves his feet to make a hit (or even at the point of impact) since this elevated posture provides a much greater risk of head contact. This call had to be made on the ice and it was not; end of story.

The 'code' changed with the instigator rule. Teams could no longer sacrifice a roster spot for a one-dimensional enforcer that would be suspended in short order for multiple instigator penalties. The tough guys or those who are called upon to fight must be able to play as well. Chad Larose is not generally regarded as a "fighter" but demonstrated tremendous courage for taking on a monster in defense of his fallen teammate. Chad knew the risk and the eventual outcome going in but he did it anyway.

Kevin Westgarth on the other hand went about settling the score for the Skinner hit in the same way that the 'NHL Gladiators' from another era enforced things. I can assure you the retribution would have happened much sooner than the middle of the second period. In years gone by Jared Cowen would likely have been challenged by the Hurricanes enforcer(s) as soon as he returned to the ice from serving his 5 minute dustup with Chad Larose. He would likely be called upon to defend himself a second time when it was learned that Jeff Skinner was done for the night and perhaps longer. Given the skill and popularity of Jeff Skinner with his teammates it doesn't surprise me that Jared Cowen continued to be a target throughout the game.

While each team had their designated protector to take care of business when the need would arise, on more than one occasion I saw an "enforcer" take control of the situation in a very different way when smaller, skilled players on his team had become the target of some overly aggressive hits. The tough guy stood in front of the other teams bench and announced to that team enforcer, "I'm not going to come after you, I'm going after these guys, one at a time," as he pointed out the star players sitting on the bench. I saw a sense of peace restored to the game at that point.

The number of genuine heavyweight enforcers I saw during my career is far too lengthy to list. They knew their role and were very good at it. I am not for promoting more fights because it only stand to reason that those multiple hits to the head can do as much, if not more, immediate and long-term damage than a check to the head. Therefore I am not suggesting eliminating the "instigator rule".  I am also quite sure that fighting will be allowed to continue as part of the game and subject to a major penalty for some time to come.

The players in today's game demonstrate so much speed and skill it is fun for all of us to watch. This combined with the physical component makes hockey a unique spectator sport. From a business and moral aspect the League must continue to find ways to protect its assets as best it can; namely the players. 

That direct responsibility belongs to the Player Safety Committee, who for the most part is doing a good job in determining illegal and dangerous hits worthy of a suspension.

A giant step forward in providing player safety and reducing the potential for concussions would be to increase the penalty to an automatic major when a player's skates leave the ice to make a hit. If injury results a game misconduct should also be assessed.  This approach has been tried and tested for other forms of dangerous play including kneeing, clipping and flagrant stick fouls, etc.

For now, a charging minor penalty is prescribed for a player who "jumps" at an opponent (skates leave the ice). When was the last time you saw it called?

The Referees can do the players and the game a huge service if they would just enforce it. That should be the new "code!"

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser


Kerry Fraser is an analyst for the NHL on TSN and That's Hockey 2Nite on TSN2. As one of the league's most recognizable senior referees, he's worked 1,904 NHL regular season games and 261 playoff games during his 37-year career.


Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!


You can also follow Kerry Fraser on Twitter at @kfraserthecall!

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