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Could Hockey learn some manners from Soccer?

Kris Versteeg avoided serious injury on Thursday night but the chance of injury could have been even further reduced with the addition of some common courtesies.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

After being scarily struck by the puck twice within a period of 10 seconds against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night, Calgary Flame Kris Versteeg was helped off the ice by teammates. Thankfully he avoided serious injury and was able to return and finish the remainder of the game.

Jeff Skinner of the Hurricanes was responsible for both shots that hit Versteeg, the first of which hit him in the knee causing him enough pain to fall onto the ice and curl up into a ball in the fetal position.

The second shot, seconds later and again from Skinner, was a slap shot that was bound for the side of Versteeg’s head, had Versteeg not placed his left hand over the side of his face while completely vulnerable on the ice. The incident can be viewed below:

Thankfully this story ended on a positive note as Versteeg was able to protect his head with his gloved hand.

Skinner too is able to let out a sigh of relief as his shots did not leave Versteeg injured for very long. Everyone is aware and seem to agree it was not something he did on purpose, that Skinner’s decision to shoot the second time was based less on awareness of the situation and more on instinct.

But the case remains, if Versteeg had been struck in the head or neck by the second shot, even with his helmet on, it could have been fatal. In 2014, Australia experienced the death of a national cricket player after a blow from the ball to his neck caused an artery to rupture and flood his brain with blood. A freak incident, but what happened to Versteeg had all the ingredients to recreate another freak incident similar the near-death experience former Montreal Canadian Trent McCleary went through after blocking a shot with his throat.

Hockey players are as tough as they get, only going down to the ice when they truly cannot go on. Hell, one time a hockey player’s heart stopped on the bench and he still asked his coach to put him back in the game after he had been revived via defibrillator in the dressing room.

The magnitude of hockey players’ toughness is only amplified when viewed next to soccer players; athletes who are stereotypically viewed as soft and far too quick to go to ground on even the slightest contact in hope of drawing a “free kick” and possession. But hockey could learn a thing or two from the world of soccer and their official rules.

For starters, Skinner was only allowed to take the second and potentially deadly shot on Versteeg as NHL rules state:

“When a player is injured so that he cannot continue play or go to his bench, the play shall not be stopped until the injured player’s team has secured control of the puck.”

Understandably this rule exists as to not unfairly punish the team with the puck by stripping them of possession or ending a scoring chance prematurely just because a player on the other team is hurt. Ultimately, what is more important: puck possession and a game or the life and health of a human being? If the NHL really valued the well-being and life of their players, their rulebook might read something like FIFA’s laws of the game:

“Play is allowed to continue until the ball is out of play if a player is, in the opinion of the referee, only slightly injured. Play is stopped if, in the opinion of the referee, a player is seriously injured.”

This wording could be very easily adapted in the NHL. It even leaves room for play to continue when a player has blocked a shot or taken a hit but is still able to continue to play albeit at less than 100%. Everyone loves heroics from an injured player at the right place at the right time.

I, for one, idolize former Coyote Boyd Gordon. I’ve fondly watched this following video over and it is a great example how changing some rules slightly would still allow for this sort of exciting hockey:

Under an adaption of FIFA’s injury rules into the NHL, this play would continue and still occur as it would be determined that Gordon was injured on the play, but not seriously so.

If the NHL adopted the more humane rules regarding injuries and stoppages from soccer, Versteeg could have avoided the dangerous second shot altogether because the referee could clearly see he was seriously injured. Hockey players only stop when they literally cannot get back up, so when they don’t, it’s serious.

Now comes the part where hockey people might say something like “it’s unfair to take the puck away from Carolina, especially in their offensive zone, just because a Flame is injured on the play.”

Well, soccer has the answer to that too, though it comes in the form of traditional convention rather than an official rule.

In a soccer match where there has been a stoppage due to a serious injury, “the referee must restart play with a dropped ball from the position of the ball when play was stopped.” Traditionally the team who did not have possession of the ball prior to the stoppage would then either:

  1. Kick the ball out, giving possession of the ball back to the team who had it prior to the stoppage.
  2. Kick the ball long back into the other team’s defensive end, returning possession to the team who had it prior to the stoppage.
  3. Just away from the dropped ball and let the team who had possession prior to the stoppage have the ball.

Soccer players do this just because it is respectful, polite and fair. This convention could be implemented into hockey with a face-off to restart play after the seriously injured player is helped from the ice. The face-off would take place at the dot closest to where the puck was controlled prior to the stoppage and the team who did not have possession of the puck would politely allow the team who did to win the face-off.

If rules and conventions like this were already in place, the play would have been stopped after Versteeg curled up into a ball on the ice from the first shot and he never would have been hit by the dangerous second shot. A face-off then would have taken place in the Canes’ offensive zone and Calgary would let Carolina win the puck. It’s all fair and the night doesn’t almost end in tragedy.