"Protect yourself at all times." These are the instructions that boxers receive prior to a match. All hockey players need to start doing the same thing.
Last week Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers got buried behind his net by Tom Kuhnhacki of the Niagara IceDogs in a OHL game. Since then, Kuhnhacki has been suspended 20 games for his actions. He left his feet and caught Murphy square in the head. The suspension was warranted but I feel Murphy is also guilty.
He is guilty of not having good on ice awareness. Watch the video above and you can clearly see Murphy check over his right shoulder to see where the checking forward was coming from on that side but he does not look to his left at all. When he gets the puck he has absolutely no idea what is going on to his left. He is not ready to make a play with the puck or to protect himself from a checker. A quick glance to his left at any time and he would have been ready to absorb the hit or at least minimize its impact.
KEEP YA HEAD UP
Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming the victim here. I don’t want Murphy to be sidelined for any amount of time due to this ugly hit. I am trying to prove a point and this was a perfect example. So many players both young and old don’t have any on ice awareness. Watch a game at any level and you will see players put themselves into very vulnerable positions.
I always wanted to know where I was in relation to the boards. It can easily lead to an injury when you are either not far enough away from the boards or way to close. Learning to manage that distance is a skill that should be taught to very young players. A great example of this is Ryan Smyth. He manages that space as well as anyone is the league. When is the last time you saw Smyth really get hammered along the boards and injure himself?
Watching Gretzky carry the puck up the ice into the offensive zone was beautiful. He always seemed to know where his team mates were so he could make that beautiful pass for a nice tap in goal. Just as important to his success was knowing were the opposition players were so that he would not get hit hard in open ice. He knew where they were and avoided that contact. Many dman love step up and drop the hammer on players right at the blue line in the open ice. Think of Scott Stevens or Dion Phaneuf in todays NHL.
I am not suggesting that on ice awareness will end all concussions or injuries but I know it will reduce them. Another way to reduce them is with some old fashioned hockey. Players have to get back to defending themselves, especially dman. Getting your stick or elbow up just before a forward is going to run you on the forecheck will have a big impact on how he comes at you next time. Trust me, it will slow him down. Nobody wants to eat a stick or elbow pad every shift.
HEAL UP QUICK
I hope that Murphy is back playing very soon. He is a great player and team Canada needs his skill. I also hope that someone sits down with him to review his approach to retrieving pucks in his zone so that he can avoid these types of hits. Maybe a few clips of Nic Lidstrom would be a good place to start. Or another way to go would be to show Chris Pronger cross checking a forechecking player.
Either way he will be safer.