It’s time for WHL to do the right thing . . . Decision-makers must act . . . Fighting, headshots have to go

 


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Included in a WHL news release that was issued on June 14 following the league’s annual meeting in Vancouver was this sentence:

“The WHL took further measures to address player safety by introducing new supplemental discipline regulations and raising its standard on illegal checks to the head.”

The news release didn’t provide any further details, but it says here that anything short of a complete ban on fighting and all contact with an opponent’s head, including incidental contact, is a complete failure.

If the WHL really — really, really, really — cares about the health and safety of its players it is time to make these moves. In fact, it’s well past time.

Why?

Well, let’s start with this Ken Dryden piece from the op-ed pages of the Washington Post.

And then there’s this piece right here from The Players Tribune. Written by Nick Boynton, a former major junior player who went to skate in the NHL, it isn’t pretty.

At one point, Boynton writes of his three-year-old son: “But I cannot, in good conscience, let him play the game of ice hockey until something changes and we start looking out for our players by taking the problems of head hits and concussions — and their potential impact on mental health — more seriously.”

Boynton also writes:

“Yes, ours is a physical, violent sport. And it may be the case that we cannot rid hockey of that violence and danger altogether. But at the very least let’s deal with the issues that arise as a result of that. Deal with the head trauma. Deal with the concussions. And deal with all of the ramifications that those things bring about.

“Stop telling people the world is flat and just do the right thing. Instead of ignoring the damage that occurs to the brain when you get your bell rung out on the ice, let’s own up to it and get guys the help they need. Not just after they retire, but while they’re playing the game.

“Let’s start addressing the problem. Let’s look closely at the brain — and how our sport as we currently play it might be harmful to the brain — and begin making things right.”

In a recent conversation with Brandon Rivers of dubnetwork.ca, WHL commissioner Ron Robison was asked about the fact that the OHL has fighting restrictions — Rivers pointed out that “If a player fights more than three times in a season, that player will be subjected to a two-game suspension for each fight over the number allowed” — while the WHL has no such thing.

Robison replied:

“I think that is another example. Each in our own way we are looking to reduce or eliminate fighting or what we would call . . . unnecessary fighting in the game. In our case, we have a WHL Player Safety Seven Point Plan, which has been in place for several seasons. We review that annually and make recommendations and we will be reviewing that actually with our general managers . . . It is an ongoing process. We each approach things a little differently but for the most part we are on the same page as far as what we are trying to accomplish.”

Robison, if you haven’t noticed, has got commissioner-speak down to a fine art where he uses many words to really say, well, not much. What he should have said is this:

“There is more and more scientific evidence linking CTE to blows to the head. Whether or not CTE is a direct result of blows to the head and/or concussions/traumatic brain injury, we are well aware that blows to the head aren’t good and may cause irreparable damage.

“As a result, the WHL is moving to the forefront of this issue by banning fighting. When a player has one fight, he will receive a warning. A second fight will carry with it a two-game suspension, with three games for a third, four for a fourth, etc.

“This is just another case of our wanting to protect the health of our players now and in the future.”

It would be easy for the WHL to adopt the IIHF’s rule that deals with checking to the head or neck. It’s Rule 124 in the IIHF rule book that is readily available at iihf.com.

Dryden, the former NHL goaltender whose latest book is Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador and the Future of Hockey, spoke for 40 minutes at the See The Line symposium in London, Ont., on Thursday.

“Six years ago the process began (with See The Line),” he said. “Injuries happen, sometimes career-diminishing, sometimes career-ending, some that change a person’s life; and change them and make them not them anymore. In six years we are now more aware of that too.

“But after six years we still have this immense problem with brain injury in sports. Why? What can we do now? Our response to it is we need better science; we need to understand it better and that becomes our focus . . . to get better technology and the focus becomes on science. The problem is when it becomes so much of the focus; science takes time and games are played tomorrow.”

Later, he told Morris Dalla Costa of the London Free Press, whose piece is right here:

“If you don’t force decision-makers to do something, things will remain the same. We have to move beyond just awareness and science. As I said in the end it is up to the decision-makers to take all this awareness that’s been raised and apply it. They have every right to simply carry on and that’s the problem; they are the roadblock. Why do we let them off the hook? Put it into the hands of those whose hands it should be in. Say to them ‘you are not custodians of the game; but custodians of the people playing the game.’ What are you doing for them?”



If you would like to support my wife, Dorothy, as she celebrates the fifth anniversary of her kidney transplant by taking part in the 2018 Kamloops Kidney Walk on Sept. 23, you are able to do so right here.



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RCMP investigating ‘fire incident’ that left three players hospitalized . . . Royals sign first-round pick

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F Tomáš Vincour (Edmonton, Vancouver, 2007-10) wasn’t offered a contract for this season after his one-week ‘introductory’ contract with Lukko Rauma (Finland, Liiga) expired on Sunday. Last season, with Brno (Czech Republic, Extraliga), he had 10 goals and 10 assists in 39 games.


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RCMP in Cochrane, Alta., are investigating a Saturday night incident that resulted in three hockey players being taken to a Calgary hospital.

Matt Alfaro of the U of Calgary Dinos, along with Jordy Bellerive and Ryan Vandervlis, both of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, remained in hospital Sunday night, being treated for Lethbridgeburns suffered in what the RCMP termed a “fire incident” that occurred “at approximately 11:43 p.m.”

According to the RCMP news release:

“Cochrane RCMP, along with Rockyview Fire and EMS were dispatched to a structure fire in the Bearspaw area of Rockyview County, located approximately 10 km east of Cochrane.

“Upon arrival, it was determined that a substance was placed into a fire-pit that caused an explosion. No structures were involved or affected by the incident.

“Three people who were in the area of the fire-pit sustained burn injuries. . . . The injured persons were transported via ground ambulance to a Calgary hospital, where they are being treated for their injuries. . . .

“The investigation into this matter is ongoing.”

While the RCMP has yet to release the identities of the three injured players, the Hurricanes revealed on Saturday night that they are Bellerive, Alfaro and Vandervlis.

The three players are in the Foothills Medical Centre. According to a report by Evan Radford of StarMetro Calgary, a spokesperson for Calgary EMS said that “one of the three is critical, one is in serious, potentially life-threatening condition, and one is in serious, non-life-threatening condition.”

Bellerive, 19, finished the 2017-18 season as the Hurricanes’ captain. Last summer, he went to training camp with the Pittsburgh Penguins and earned a three-year entry-level NHL contract.

On Sunday, the Penguins issued a news release that indicated assistant general manager Bill Guerin “has spoken with Bellerive, who is in good spirits and expected to make a full recovery.”

Bellerive is from North Vancouver, B.C.

Vandervlis, 20, is from Red Deer. His 2017-18 season was short-circuited when he underwent shoulder surgery in December.

Alafaro, 21, has played one season with the Dinos. From Calgary, he played in the WHL with the Kootenay Ice, before being traded to the Hurricanes during the 2016-17 season.


The Victoria Royals have signed D Nolan Bentham to a WHL contract. Bentham, who is from Victoria, was a first-round selection, 13th overall, in the WHL’s 2018 bantam draft. . . . Last season, Bentham played at the Yale Hockey Academy in Abbotsford, B.C., putting up five goals and 17 assists in 30 games with the bantam prep team. . . . He is the son of John Bentham, a defenceman who had three assists in 35 games with the WHL’s Victoria Cougars in 1989-90.

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The WHL teams that have signed 2018 first-round bantam draft selections:

1 Edmonton — F Dylan Guenther.

2. Kootenay — D Carson Lambos.

3. Prince Albert — D Nolan Allan.

4. Calgary — F Sean Tschigerl.

5. Kamloops — F Logan Stankoven.

6. Saskatoon — F Colton Dach.

7. Red Deer — F Jayden Grubbe.

8. Lethbridge — F Zack Stringer.

11. Medicine Hat — F Cole Sillinger.

12. Vancouver — F Zack Ostapchuk.

13. Victoria — D Nolan Bentham.

14. Tri-City — D Marc Lajoie.

15. Brandon — F Jake Chiasson.

16. Red Deer — D Kyle Masters.

17. Spokane — D Graham Sward.

19. Portland — F Gabe Klassen.

20. Edmonton — D Keegan Slaney.

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The WHL teams that have yet to sign their 2018 first-round bantam draft selections:

9. Prince George — F Craig Armstrong.

10. Seattle — F Kai Uchacz.

18. Kelowna — F Trevor Wong (committed to U of Denver, 2021-22).

21. Prince George — G Tyler Brennan.

22. Moose Jaw — F Eric Alarie.


In a news release following its annual general meeting in Vancouver last week, the WHL issued a news release that included this:

“The WHL took further measures to address player safety by introducing new supplemental discipline regulations and raising its standard on illegal checks to the head.”

Unfortunately, the WHL has yet to provide specifics. But anything less than a complete ban on headshots, including fighting, is a fail . . . a large fail.

If you’re wondering why, well, if you haven’t already seen it already, the always literate Ken Dryden wrote a piece for The Athletic on the NHL, commissioner Gary Bettman and its stance on concussions, CTE, checks to the head, etc.

Dryden’s essay is right here and it explains it all.


Josh Lee has signed on with the MJHL’s WayWayseecappo Wolverines as associate general manager and associate coach. Lee, 28, is from Edmonton. He will work under GM/head coach Taylor Harnett with the Wolverines.