Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Game 26: Canadiens 2, Blue Jackets 1

The Canadiens beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 tonight, diffusing the bad vibes after a disappointing loss to the Devils on Saturday.

The game had its controversial moments, mostly centred on Nick Foligno's flagrant knee-on-knee on Tomas Fleischmann, and Alexei Emelin's major and game misconduct penalties which were debatable.

About the latter, I’m not against the NHL cracking down on obstruction, hampering the efforts of the slow guys who can’t get there before the puck leaves. The NFL manages to police that, you can’t hit the QB once he releases the ball, or the WR before the ball gets there, it’s pretty cut and dried, and overall it’s managed effectively, and errs on the side of safety.

But the NHL is all bound up in its ‘tradition’ of toughness, it’s all campbellized, and they view the whole finishing-your-check issue as a moral, ethical, existential quandary, instead of being decisive and realizing that forbidding it will favour the Sidney Crosbys over the Alexei Emelins and the Brandon Dubinskys, it will produce more goals, which they claim they want.

And yeah, how a crosscheck in the back of a player, one that was aimed shoulder-high and unfortunately slipped higher if the perpetrator is to be believed, and which so frustrated him that he just had to let off some steam and deliver another crosscheck in the back of his now prone target, hard enough to break the shaft of his stick, how that is conceivably within the bounds of acceptability, says everything we need to know about the NHL with its band of nincompoops running the show, led by a Napoleon-complexed frustrated basketball fan.

About the butchered call on the Brandon Dubinsky knee-on-knee, I’ll say it again, a Television Match Official like seen at the Rugby World Cup would have made short work of this mess. I don’t fault referees for missing plays, for not seeing infractions, but I can’t accept that the fact of ‘not seeing’ determines so much that follows, when it’s unnecessary in this day and age. It’s not like this is the ’40’s, and we’re still using chain-link fencing over the endboards, and the only hope for replay is a half-dozen photogs with flashbulbs and a trip to the darkroom followed by 12 hours of waiting and crossing your fingers.

In this sequence of events, the TMO would have buzzed down to the hapless, overmatched on-ice referee and said, over their two-way radio link, “I have a sequence to replay for you, possible knee-on-knee by 71 white”. Both teams would have heard this over the P.A. system in the rink, as well as the fans, and the audience at home.

So everyone would have held off, watched the same video on the same screens in the rink, it would have been plain that Nick Foligno is a P.O.S. who committed to a face-to-face check that never works and always leads to the target veering away, and a knee-on-knee. Because the NHL tolerates them, there’s no repercussion, no deterrence, so the perpetrator would rather blow out his opponent’s knee than let him skate by unimpeded, and have to face his coach after.

But in my world, Nick Foligno is thrown out of the game for attempt to injure, it’s a strict liability issue, nobody cares about intent or whether it was a reflex. Nobody considers if he’s ‘that kind of player’. Or whether he’d send a text to his victim in hospital, to reach out, because this was such an unfortunate accident.

No, he’s out of the game, because he deserves to be tossed, and because we have an easy way to determine that he’s a moron, the technology is there, we don’t need to shrug and wring our hands that the ref ‘missed it’. The cameras didn’t, and we can use them, since you crowned me as your Commissioner.

And Nathan Beaulieu had no need to try to exact some street justice, because of the myopic refs and buffoonish campbells, we got the call right. No quiet room time for Nathan. And no need for the refs to bend over backwards and pretend, fully knowing they blew the call, that Nate didn’t instigate this fight, because they blew the call.

But Gary Bettman is too busy trying to foist a baloney ad on a Maple Leaf jersey to worry about the state of the game, or brain injuries to the players he professes to love.

And Michel Therrien is showing a glaring lack of understanding, or at least a lack of candor in his press conference while being grilled about Nathan’s wobbly knees. And I wouldn’t mind so much, if the Canadiens hadn’t butchered the Dale Weise concussion a couple of seasons ago in the playoffs, and if the coach and Marc Bergevin hadn’t been so ham-handed and defensive in their responses back then too.

I think that they both try to do their best, but they don’t understand the basics about concussions, how they happen, how they can best be treated and their after-effects minimized.

When asked why the Canadiens didn’t immediately initiate the concussion protocol when he seemed woozy after his brief fight with Nick Foligno, he snorted, derisively stating that “there’s not much difference between sitting down in the quiet room and sitting in the penalty box.” Which is completely wrong. The whole point of the immediate consultation in the quiet room is to better assess the player shortly after the trauma, and to possibly reduce the after-effects by limiting exposure to noise and bright lights, among other harmful stimuli.

If I know this as a casual fan, from reading a few articles, Michel Therrien, as a professional hockey coach who should be concerned with his players’ well-being, should know as much also, if not more. He shouldn’t be that confused or outright mistaken on the basics.

P.K. said that he wasn’t surprised to see Nate out on the ice afterwards, since ‘he seemed fine’. But that’s not the baseline, the standard, that a player look fine before he be sent out there, that’s actually what the concussion protocol guards against, that players be sent out in that condition. Generations of football players were fine, played games in a mental fog, and are now coming down with CTE.

Every guideline I’ve read states that when a player exhibits symptoms like lack of balance, confusion, blacking out, he has suffered a concussion, by definition, and should be taken out of the game or the competition. The diagnosis is not dependent on being examined by a doctor and feeling fine. The objective criteria, the behavioural symptoms, those are the deciding factors, not a player seeming fine. But maybe the internet is wrong.

The only factor that reduced my anxiety level is that Nate took one ‘on the button’, rather than bouncing his head off a knee or the ice. If my hazy physiology and boxing knowledge are to be trusted, those right-on-the-chin K.O.’s aren’t caused by the brain smashing against the skull, but by the jaw being pushed back and hitting some ganglia behind it, which ‘short-circuits’ the brain. So while there was a K.O., maybe there wasn’t a concussion, a brain injury.

The panel on L’Antichambre tried to explain away Michel Therrien’s actions by saying he listens to his doctors and doesn’t interfere in their decision-making, that he relies on them to tell him if a player is okay to continue. That’s a fair statement to make, but I’d feel a lot more confident if the Head Coach was actively aware and trained on this issue, and erred on the side of caution when he saw one of his players get his bell runged.

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