Head Shots in Hockey
Hits to the head in ice hockey.
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Ice hockey is a wonderful, yet dangerous sport. The potential for serious injuries is quite high due to the fact that players are much larger and faster than in the past. Over the last few years, hits involving intent to target and injure a player’s head have become problematic, particularly in the National Hockey League, or NHL. Recently, an especially troubling hit occurred in a playoff game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Phoenix Coyotes in which Raffi Torres, of the Coyotes, injured Marian Hossa, of the Blackhawks, to the point where Hossa was rushed to a local hospital. Fortunately, Hossa was released with only minor injuries. However, Torres was suspended for twenty-five games, one of the longest suspensions in NHL history, for intending to target and injure Hossa’s head. Did this particular hit actually involve intent to injure the opponent’s head? Did Torres deserve such a lengthy suspension? In order to answer those questions certain criteria must be established to determine what constitutes a hit with intent to target and injure the head.
First, the principle point of contact must be the head. No matter what else occurs, if the principle point of contact with the opposing player is not the head, then the hitting player cannot be accused of intending to injure it. Second, the hitting player must leave his feet in order to increase the probability of hitting the opponent’s head. This means that the player must jump off the ice and upward into the opponent they are hitting. Third, the opposing player cannot be in possession of the puck. Hitting in hockey is designed exclusively for the purpose of separating the opposing player from the puck. A hit to a player without possession of the puck demonstrates that the hit was intended solely for the purpose of hurting that player. A hit to any opponent who does not have possession of the puck is designated as interference, and a penalty is assessed to the hitting player. Last, the hitting player must continue taking forward strides into the hit. When a player hits an opponent they are required to stop taking forward strides two or three strides before they get near the opponent. This rule is in place because continuing to take forward strides into a hit only intensifies the injurious effects of that hit. If the hitting player is guilty of this act they are assessed a penalty for charging.
Although Raffi Torres did not continue taking forward strides into his hit on Marian Hossa, he did make Hossa’s head the principle point of contact. When Torres hit Hossa, his elbow clearly slammed into his head, causing it to snap back violently as he tumbled to the ice. In addition, Torres clearly left his feet by jumping up and into Hossa. This increased the severity of the blow to Hossa’s head. Also, possession of the puck had been lost several moments before the hit took place. This means that the hit was late, and was not executed to take the puck away from Hossa. Regardless of the fact that he did not charge into Hossa, Torres absolutely demonstrated intent to target and injure the head by leaving his feet in order to ram his elbow into Hossa’s head. Additionally, the fact that the hit occurred several moments after Hossa had lost possession of the puck demonstrates that this hit was for the sole purpose of injuring the player because it did not entail separating the opposing player from the puck. Since three of the four criteria were met, this hit definitely warranted the lengthy suspension handed down because of it.
Clearly, this type of hit is despised in hockey. Players need to take more responsibility for their actions, and hockey officials need to hand out lengthier suspensions in order to prevent more injuries in the future. If steps are not taken to remove this type of hit from the game, players will inevitably end up paralyzed or dead from snapped necks and broken spines because of dangerous hits like this one.