The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Shane Frederick

November 24, 2009

Despite the rules, high hits just keep on coming

Years ago, I attended an event in the Twin Cities that featured hockey legend Gordie Howe. Folks lined up to shake his hand, get his autograph and have their picture taken with him.

Howe was more than accommodating, and whenever someone stood next to him for a photo, he would strike a pose by putting his elbow into the side of the person’s head.

Howe’s antics brought smiles to the faces of the fans who appreciated his reputation for rough-and-tumble play as much as they did his long career and penchant for scoring.

These days, no one’s laughing about elbows — or sticks or shoulders or fists, for that matter — to the head in hockey, especially in the college game.

Several on-ice incidents already this season prompted NCAA officials to hold an emergency conference call last week and issue a memo to coaches, commissioners and referees, reminding them of its policy when it comes to blows to the head.

The memo, the subject of which was “Contact to the Head and Blindside Hits,” instructed officials to maintain a heightened sense of awareness and penalize, when appropriate, any player who delivers a hit directly to the head or neck area of another player in any manner (e.g., elbow, forearm, stick, shoulder, etc.).”

At the bottom of the letter, the rule about high hits directly from the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Book was reprinted, followed by a note that reads, “The rules committee instructs officials to use a zero tolerance policy in this area.”

Already this season there have been three notable high or blindside hits.

Wisconsin’s Craig Smith got a game-disqualification and an additional one-game suspension from his school for a frightening check from behind into the boards that knocked Geoff Irwin out of commission for two games with a shoulder injury.

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Shane Frederick
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