Why automatic icing is the wrong solution…

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Paring down the goalie gear

I wasn’t at the Minnesota game where Kurtis Foster was injured on the icing race — Laurie’s at Spring Training, we had three games at home this week, I had things to do, and so the tickets went to a friend (besides, I usually find Wild hockey anything but… yawn.).

But I was watching it on TV, and saw the injury in all its glory. It was a very sad, unfortunate thing. I’m not sure it was avoidable, Foster to me already looked to be losing control when Mitchell pushed him (and he did, but it seemed to me to be part of a legitimate play, not an intent to cause a problem).

And as expected when something high profile and graphic happens, the calls for “fixing” the problem are coming out fast and furious. For example:

The NHL Broke Kurtis Foster’s Leg – FanHouse – AOL Sports Blog:

But that debate is a distraction from the real issue at hand, which is the League’s refusal to protect its players by instituting a no-brainer policy of “no-touch” icing.


james mirtle: Foster’s big fall – A hockey journalist’s blog:

Yet another incident that screams for the league to introduce no-touch icing

to name just two.

Dan Rusanowsky sees it differently:

San Jose Sharks -> Tough Break:

Some say that the incident is an illustration as to why automatic icing should be instituted in the NHL, but I disagree, as I did after Marco Sturm ended his season after a chase-collision with Adam Foote in Colorado in 2004. A similar injury could happen on a simple dump-in from center ice, or a mid ice collision, or one of any number of possibilities. It was an extremely unfortunate occurrence, to be sure, and is a reminder that the road to the Stanley Cup can be filled with potholes.

And I have to admit I agree with him. At one point — especially after a similar situation where Marco Sturm was injured — I was a strong advocate of automatic icing, but as I’ve studied and thought about it more, I’ve changed my mind. Automatic icing isn’t the solution here.

We saw a similar reaction when Richard Zednik had his throat cut — calls for mandatory throat guards, even some people calling for changes to skates and other “out there” solutions. This despite that in the NHL, it was 19 years between incidents. Fortunately, that drum has been mostly silenced as people put the injury back in the larger perspective of the game and the risks involved, and so should this one.

Stop and think about it for a minute: the chase for the icing is, in fact, an exciting play that can change the momentum of the game and give a fast team a significant advantage. It creates fan interest and it can decide a game. Because of this, I think doing away with it is sending the game in the wrong direction.

And while I don’t have stats handy, if you look at how many careers have been ended in the last five years to concussions or eye/face injuries, if you look at the number of man-games lost to those injuries and compare those numbers to injuries that happen during an icing play, I’m sure you’ll find that concussions impact teams and players MUCH more than icing plays, and so do injuries that could be minimized by mandatory visors.

So before the league goes off “fixing” icing, it really should stop and figure out how to stop hits to the head and how to keep players from getting their bell rung. Nick Kypreos and the Lindros brothers could have some input here, I think. And players should quit talking about personal choice and put the stupid visors on.

Fact is, if I sat and thought about it, I could likely find five or six injury types much more common and damaging to players and teams than icing incidents. In the larger scheme of how to protect players and reduce the impact of teams on player injuries, “fixing” icing seems to me like painting the bathroom while the stove is on fire in the kitchen. Go put the stove out, then talk to me about painting.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think the league should do NOTHING here; I just don’t think automatic icing is the answer.

What I suggest instead is to make penalties during icing plays more serious. For instance:

  • Any penalty taken during an icing play behind the goal line where the icing is not washed out by the play is an automatic five minute major.
  • Any play taken during an icing behind the goal line where the icing is not washed out by the play that causes a player injury is an automatic game misconduct.
  • Any place taken during an icing behind the goal line where a player is taken off on a stretcher is an automatic match intent-to-injure.

The point of this is to make the area behind the goal line a relative safe zone for the player attempting to make the icing. The chasing player trying to wash it out has to make a judgment coming in whether to pull up from the chase or whether to make the attempt to wash; if he knows that he’s at risk of costing his team a major penalty because the play is too close or there’s a risk of taking a penalty, he’ll play it more cautiously — which is what we need here.

What’s needed here isn’t radical surgery — doing away with icing plays — but giving a chasing player more incentive to be cautious and pull up unless they know they can make the play and do is safely. You do that by making the repercussions of taking a penalty at the end of the play more serious. By mandating that any penalty taken in that zone during that play a major, that’ll be enough for players to pull up and not force the play unless they’re sure it’s safe to do so.

Mostly. Will there be bad choices? injuries? yes. But hockey is a fast and physical game. Injuries are part of it, and we can’t legislate total safety into the game, even if we turn it into ringette, which nobody wants. What we CAN do is create incentives and disincentives to certain actions that encourage injuries, which will reduce both the frequency of those happening and the severity of the injury they cause.

Which the league really ought to get serious about doing in other parts of the game, too. Say, starting with hits to the head. But that’s a different post…

There’s no need for radical changes to the game. We can manage this problem with more thought and less impact. And should.

This entry was posted in Sports - Hockey.
  • Josh

    I personally favor a hybrid solution, similar to the USHL, in which the linesman makes the call based on the race to the hashmarks, and not based on the touch. This would allow players to race hard for the puck, but since the call is not made based on touching the puck first, the players can protect themselves first and touch the puck second as they reach the boards. Foster’s injury does not happen Mitchell is not reaching around him, and he tries to block Mitchell from the touch, and touch it himself. Both players would go into the boards, absorb the contact, and THEN battle for the puck.