Friday, September 18, 2009

Revisiting Hits to the Head

Kyle Okposo is wheeled off the ice on a stretcher after a vicious open-ice hit by Dion Phaneuf.  Photo courtesy of NY Newsday
If you're an Islander fan, by now you've heard what happened last night when one of our bright young players was viciously hit in the head with little relevance to the play. Kyle Okposo was hit in open-ice by a very suspect impact initiated by Calgary Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Here's my breakdown of the play (UPDATED):

Okposo skates up the middle of the ice with the puck barely hanging on to his blade. He’s covered by 2 Flames players, the forward who is properly back-checking and the the left defenseman who is in position to force Okposo to the outside.

Phaneuf conciously makes a decision to skate OUT OF HIS LANE as a right defenseman to come after Okposo.

Okposo loses the puck to a good back-check by the forward and is extending to regain control and if you’ve ever played the game in this situation you almost certainly have your head down (even at the NHL level) to spot the puck.

Phaneuf keeps his elbow IN, until the force of the impact drives his arm up and out. This was a shoulder check with an elbow follow through. Not uncommon but certainly not warranted in open-ice. What irks me about the hit is the total irrelevance to the play as a whole and the fact that he does LEAVE HIS FEET to deliver the hit. Phaneuf has no necessity to be on that side of the ice as proper defensive technique dictates that he stay on his side of the ice (again, if you’ve ever played, this was taught to you).

Frankly, IMHO this was a dirty hit. Regular season, pre-season, playoffs is irrelevant. As far as relevance to the play and the idea of fair-play and keeping an opponent’s well-being in mind in relation to the position he’s in at that moment, Phaneuf disregarded everything that makes this game great.

I ask those of you who think this is a clean hit, what happens at the end of a playoff series? The teams shake hands, right? Well, if this happened in the Western Conference Finals for example, I can guarantee you that there would be a bench clearing brawl. There is a certain etiquette that every hockey player lives and dies by:

Phaneuf stepped over the line and deserves a suspension. What should be 5 games minimum won’t even be a slap on the wrist but at least we know it should be that long.

What I really like about the Islanders response was that it wasn't the usual guys who came to Kyle's defense. Pascal Morency (although deserving of a suspension) should be praised for going after Phaneuf in retaliation albeit jumping over the boards to go after him. Matt Martin should also get some merit points in the eyes of the coaching staff for trying to get to Phaneuf as well. Even Marty Biron got in on the act. These are 3 players (2 of them brand new to the organization) that understand that the team is more important than themselves. This could have been a tragic incident, but thankfully it wasn't. I'm just glad that Kyle is okay and that the Islanders showed some feistiness immediately after the hit (unlike with Mottau and Frans Nielsen last season).

Whatever suspensions get handed down, be prepared for the contingency that only one player will receive anything (Pascal Morency). If Dion Phaneuf gets anything for this vicious hit to the head I'll be surprised.

Keep following Katie Strang and her blog Isles Files for the latest updates on Kyle's condition. As of right now, the PR dept. is saying it's a "mild concussion". I'm sure we'll find out more as the weekend gets underway.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Other Sites with News on Last Night's Hit

  • Dom over at Lighthouse Hockey has a couple of posts on the matter.

  • Dee Karl, the 7th Woman weighed in on both Hockeybuzz and her own site.

  • Okposo Net's Ken obviously had his take on Kyle's condition and the hit itself.

  • On the brighter side of things, Islanders Point Blank delivers some good news at least.

  • Ken over at Islanders Outsider has some thoughts on the game and the hit.

  • Link Updates 2:30PM
  • My buddy Justin Bourne over at Bourne's Blog had a former pro player's angle on the Phaneuf/Okposo incident. (A really good read!)

  • Islanders Point Blank let's Calgary fans and players know his opinon on how Phaneuf should "man-up" and face the music.

  • Dom over at Lighthouse Hockey has a nice assemblage of links about the subject matter as well.
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