Sports Hockey

Hockey must get serious about the head-hunting

How many more hockey players must take shots to the head and lie crumpled on the ice before those who run our game take real action?

And exactly what is enough to deter hockey players, who claim to know better, from continuing to head hunt in the Canadian game?

Because it's happened again, just after it happened before that, when it happened again.

On Sunday afternoon, Mikael Tam, of the Quebec Remparts, took an elbow to the head from Rouyn- Noranda's Patrice Cormier during a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game.

Tam went into convulsions and was taken to hospital after the hit. He suffered brain trauma and some damage to his teeth, said a Remparts official. He remains in hospital.

Cormier captained Canada at the recent world junior hockey championship. Known as a physical player, he hit Sweden's Anton Rodin with a similar elbow to the mouth during an exhibition game ahead of the world juniors.

The QMJHL is reviewing the incident, but it should have some precedent for watching video evidence of such hits and handing out punishment.

Just last Thursday, Windsor Spitfires' Zack Kassian launched himself at Barrie Colts' Matt Kennedy during an Ontario Hockey League game.

Kassian appears to have left his feet for the centre-ice hit, which left Kennedy with a concussion, three staples to the back of his head, which hit the ice when his helmet flew off, and three stitches in his right cheek.

Kassian was given a major penalty for charging, an automatic game misconduct and has been suspended indefinitely by the OHL, pending a review.

But there's more.

In October, Michael Liambas, of the Erie Otters, delivered a devastating hit to Kitchener Rangers' rookie Ben Fanelli, leaving him with skull and facial fractures. Fanelli hasn't played hockey since the hit.

Liambas was suspended for the rest of the OHL season and playoffs which, because he was an overage player, ended his junior career.

But Liambas resurfaced in the International Hockey League, with the Bloomington Prairie Thunder. In late December, Liambas delivered a hit from behind to Muskegon Lumberjacks' Jason Lawmaster, who had his spleen ruptured and spent four days in hospital.

Liambas got off light this time, with just a five-game suspension.

Barrie Colts' captain Stefan Della Rovere probably also got a break for his head check to Windsor's Craig Duininck, in the same game Kennedy was felled.

Della Rovere also got a major and a misconduct, but no additional punishment from the league.

Hockey fans will find out during the next few days what the penalties are for Cormier and Kassian.

It says here they should be severe. Not just for the illegal hits they delivered, but to send a message to the rest of the head hunters out there looking for the next opponent in a vulnerable position. Or a smaller, younger one.

Hockey is a dangerous enough game without players throwing elbows, forearms, fists or even shoulders at the heads of other players.

That's not part of the game, and it never was. The players have to know that if they throw these

hits, they'll be gone. Not just for five or 10 games, but for 20 or 25 games, maybe the rest of the season and playoffs.

It's time for real deterrence to head hunting in hockey.

The next few days will show if the hockey bosses are serious about it, or not.

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