Michael Russo's Sunday Insider: Speed makes, breaks game

  • Article by: Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 14, 2012 - 11:19 PM

It can be breathtaking to watch, but it's also a prime reason for the disturbing number of head injuries.

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Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard isn’t writing off the season. “I wish I could give you a timetable,” he said. “I’m positive I can come back.’’

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Dejected, sad, Pierre-Marc Bouchard sounded helpless Wednesday when he spoke for the first time since it was announced he was once again on the shelf with a concussion.

The Wild winger, who played one game in a 20-month span before returning Dec. 1, 2010, did everything he could to prevent another. But a check from behind and one inadvertent elbow to the chin rendered him with another uncertain future.

Bouchard is the latest in a long list of NHLers sidelined by head injuries.

A number of concerned critics say there is a concussion epidemic in the NHL. Others, including many players, wonder if there's an actual epidemic or if there's just a heightened awareness of head injuries.

"Things that probably went by unnoticed or undiagnosed or ignored in years past, I think now there's much more awareness of symptoms and what it can entail and what it can do to you long-term," said Chicago Blackhawks veteran Andrew Brunette. "Losing some of the key players in our game kind of opened everybody's eyes more, which is a good thing.

"You don't want to be messing around with the brain."

Teammate Patrick Kane agreed, saying, "In the old days, it seems players would go out there and play if they got their bell rung. I don't think that's the case anymore, and that's good."

But there's little doubt the NHL is much faster and more physical than yesteryear. That makes for more violent collisions.

"It's much faster," said former NHL defenseman Tom Reid, the Wild's radio color analyst. "I was watching a tape of an old-time game and asked why they put it in slow motion. They said it wasn't. It was in real time. That's just the way the game was."

The speed of the game has become such a hot topic, the general managers plan to discuss whether the game needs to be slowed at their next meetings. Maybe they reinstitute the red line for two-line offside passes. Maybe they get rid of the trapezoid so goalies can come out farther to play the puck. Maybe they allow defensemen to fence off again at the blue line so forwards aren't able to fly into the offensive zone at warp speed.

And dare we say, maybe they allow a little obstruction again.

"For years we were complaining about that and wanted to get rid of it from the game," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "It would be crazy if we asked for something like that to be part of the game again."

But as San Jose's Brent Burns said, "I think anybody's susceptible to getting [concussions]. I mean, the game's just so fast and guys are just so big, you have no time. Willie Mitchell said most people get in one car wreck and it puts them out for a while and we get in 10, 12 of them a day.

"You get hit so hard so often, it can happen to anybody. It's a tough injury to get through."

Kane said it's just incumbent on players to be more aware on both sides of the puck.

"This is such a fun game to watch. It's so different than any other sport," Kane said. "I don't think we want to change it too much because of concussions. I love playing this game. To change it because of the speed, I don't want to see that."

Brunette wants to see the league crack down on "hitting guys without the puck, which has become commonplace."

Bouchard agrees "accidents are going to happen," but he wants to see stiffer suspensions and more respect for one another.

"You're never going to eliminate concussions," Toews said. "Concussions are going to happen as long as we keep playing the sport. Hockey's physical. It's going to stay that way. It's always going to be fast.

"It's just trying to limit the situations that are avoidable and unnecessary."

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