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Hockey’s ‘Ice Warrior’ Culture Feeds Injuries & Dangerous Habits

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The Senators just released a list of 15 players who were injured in the playoffs. Everyone was anticipating it, but why is this a part of playoff hockey?

Ottawa Senators v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Seven
‘I hope you’re healthy’
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Joe Thornton played on a torn ACL and MCL during the first round of the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin was playing on most of a knee and a badly injured hamstring. Brandon Dubinsky was dealing with a wrist injury. Andrej Sekera will miss the next 4-6 months with an ACL repair. Alex Steen played on a broken foot.

Erik Karlsson had major muscle damage to his ankle and a fracture in his heel. Cody Ceci had, from Pierre Dorion’s words, ‘his fingers broken 17 times.’ The 15 injuries that the Senator’s announced were horrific in the short of it.

Kevin Fiala broke his femur during game one of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Blues. Ryan Johansen was injured to the point of acute compartment syndrome (no really, don’t google it) in the Western Conference Final.

In 2013, Patrice Bergeron was classified as a walking body injury. Do you remember that series during the shortened season? Bergeron fought Evgeni Malkin in the Eastern Conference Final and his health declined steadily from there. He played with broken ribs, torn cartilage, a separated shoulder, and a slowly collapsing lung. In that same playoffs, Evgeni Malkin broke Gregory Campbell’s leg with a slapshot and Campbell was deemed ‘a true hockey player’ for finishing his shift.

Who knows what will come out of the final and its list of casualties.

This isn’t a new concept; injuries happen during the post season and teams are very tight-lipped about it. What’s more concerning is players playing through some serious injuries just to play for the Stanley Cup.

The culture of injuries and being a warrior is worrisome within hockey.

“Because They’re Hockey Players”

Zach Werenski almost finished a game after taking a Phil Kessel shot under the eye, was hailed a hero for coming back in a bubble, though he eventually left the game because of the swelling.

He then posted a photo of what his face looked like after with the quote of ‘Playoff Hockey’. It was announced he had multiple facial fractures and he was out for the rest of the season. Werenski is 19 years old and nominated for the Calder Trophy. This should not be the mentality that you are teaching younger players.

Many players get hit with pucks or get high-sticked in the face and come back ‘because they’re hockey players.’ This type of thinking is dangerous. A lot of players play through injuries that fans will never know about, or it will come out after the injury has healed.

The endless lists of injuries after teams are done for the season or in the playoffs should not be the reason we start to go ‘oh, so that’s what was wrong with him.’

Playing through pain is one thing, everyone has had that moment when they’re working where they are doing so with a nagging pain. Playing hurt and playing injured are two majorly different things. Playing hurt is being banged up, bruised from blocked shots, getting checked into the boards.

Playing injured is not knowing if taking your skate off will be a good idea because your foot is so swollen from being broken. Playing injured is trying to decide if the ligaments that are partially torn in your knee can take one more game.

You look at situations like Rich Peverley’s and how he was quoted saying ‘I want to get back in the game’ and how it’s just feeding the mentality of ‘hockey players are tougher than anyone,’ which goes into a round of ‘please like my sport.’ The Jiri Fischer’s and Rich Peverley’s of the world would love to still be playing hockey, but their heart conditions stopped that. We can add the Coyotes own Craig Cunningham to this list as well.

It has nothing to do with how tough anyone is, it has to do with how fans perceive it all.

The Coyotes Side

The Coyotes are not a team that seemingly rush their players back from injury. When Mike Smith had core surgery in 2015, they said he would be out 8-10 weeks. He came back 13 weeks later. Being a goalie, his core situation is different than a skater’s. He also posted two shutouts when he came back and had ridiculous numbers.

Shane Doan came back, relatively soon, after his bout with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. They didn’t rush Mikkel Boedker back after his spleen surgery, which we learned a year later was more critical than we previously knew, and Brad Richardson didn’t rush back from his two broken leg bones.

But then you remember: Oliver Ekman-Larsson played through a broken thumb, something that most players would be out for. His situation through the season was different than most - we don’t know if it was Ekman-Larsson’s choice is play through the injury. The more pressing thing is, he should not have been the one to make the choice if he did. If the team doctors okayed him to play through the injury, that’s one thing, but if it was purely his choice, then there might be an issue.

In Max Domi’s rookie year, he had a game that was very rough on his face. He ended up blocking a shot that, at the time, looked like it may have broken his nose.

Matt McConnell and Tyson Nash both bring up why he is still on the bench/back out there: ‘Because he’s a hockey player.’

This shouldn’t be the catch all, this should be the exception. Hits to the face can cause major injuries, like Werenski’s, Joe Vitale’s (fractured orbital bone), Drew Miller’s (skate to the face that cut over his eye under his visor), and put you out of commission for an extended period of time.

The Culture of Ice Warriors

With playing through injuries, player’s careers don’t as long anymore: Steve Yzerman’s knees, Paul Kariya and Eric Lindros’ concussions, Mario Lemieux’s back and heart. You also have the generation of fighters who are no longer playing now because of concussions or because they are no longer alive.

Playing hockey is painful, and this is where you have to start looking at how medical teams work with each player. Addictions happen, mental illness goes unchecked, and you lose players both metaphorically and physically.

Injuries are now more than just physical, they are mental as well. All health should be considered when you are dealing with players, not just the body. Mental health is still very stigmatized in the NHL, across all sports really, and this needs to be looked into as well.

Players with concussions are coming back too soon. Players with injuries that are healed, but not stable enough to take a game-time hit. Players who should not return during the season are coming back because ‘it's the playoffs.’

As I said before, players should not be trusted with their own health. That is what the team doctors and trainers are there for. I have compared hockey players to goldfish, in which they have the survival instinct of the small creature. I have talked to a few guys who played in college and they both said they same thing: ‘Hockey players are dumb when it comes to injuries.’

This culture is going to hurt this generation’s players more than anything else. Sidney Crosby could be on his way to an early retirement because of the three concussions he had this season. Younger players are not reporting concussions like they should, as in the case of Gabriel Landeskog.

‘Because It’s The Cup’ cannot be an excuse anymore.