Head shots and brain pots: what does it take to stop the play?
Thrashers Goalie Ondrej Pavelec went old school and stopped a shot without his mask.
Any goalie worth his salt probably has a more than a few stories about getting hit in the head by the puck, or better yet the evening of scores with the proverbial head-hunting psycho (yes, there’s one in every garage league) who tries to bean the goalie on purpose. Thankfully, while there aren’t many of these latter types (hopefully most of them will have been hung up by their jockstraps on the dressing room coat hooks for a king-size wedgie), it goes without saying that getting hit in the head is part of the game. After that, however, the only rule about head injury is that there are no rules. While trolling around on any of the umpteen goalie specialty sites and blogs reveals no shortage of opinions, there is precious little hard information about exactly why concussions happen to some and not to others and whether one brand of mask can verifiably protect the head better than another. Some goalies have never been hurt. Some are still wearing their antique Jofa helmet and cage a la Arturs Irbe. Other goalies aren’t goalies anymore due to head trauma. Go figure.
One interesting observation I made during this week’s World Junior Final (in between much hand-wringing, sweating and eventual sobbing as the home team lost) was that in international hockey there is apparently a rule whereby the referee immediately stops play should the goalie be struck in the head. I wasn’t aware of it until exactly this situation happened with Canadian netminder Jake Allen. He took a shot near the chin (yes, the annoying dangler did its job) and instantly the referee called the play to check if he was OK. I was amazed that such a rule exists.
The next night I was on the ice coaching two Atom CC goalies, one of whom is apparently puck shy and has a tendency to pull up on shots or turn his head, classic signs of the fear that grips us all from time to time. After watching 10 minutes of practice it was easy to see why this was the case. The kid only measured about 4 feet 4 inches; just the perfect height to put his head at the level of the crossbar. As I watched, I saw that many of the shots were quite strong (CC is the 2nd highest level for Atom in Quebec) and a fair number were aimed right at the goalie’s head. I suppose you can’t blame kids for trying to score up top; when the goalie is only 4 feet tall it makes sense. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if minor hockey applied the same rule. That poor kid gets beaned constantly and no one seems to see that as unusual. After the practice I talked to the whole team, giving my little sermon about how you can’t expect your goalie to be confident when you spend the practice or warmup whistling the puck past his ears…
Contrast that with the garage league I play in, where if there are hard shots consistently at head level, half the guys on the ice start yelling at the offender to keep the *F’N* puck down. I’ve had my dangler ripped off, my helmet cracked and the wires on my cage bent inwards by the force of shots more than once. If a goalie does get hit hard in the mask, everyone generally stops to see if he is OK. Totally different attitude. In minor hockey, however, I have watched dozens of games where the goalie takes a hard shot in the head and unless he is pretty much splayed out on the ice, plays continues as normal.
Maybe minor hockey needs to rethink this issue. If the world juniors use a automatic stoppage rule, why wouldn’t we do the same for kids? It could be left up to the discretion of the referee, but at least if there were something in the rulebook that stipulates or encourages such an intervention then young goalies might feel safer. An overview of the Hockey Canada and NHL rulebooks reveals nothing relating specifically to play stoppage in the event of a goalie being hit in the head. Maybe there should be some debate on this issue…