Tom Sestito has today had his match penalty for checking to the head downgraded, and all of South Yorkshire is gleefully saying “WE TOLD YOU SO!” Those who like to see hitting in hockey are informing all and sundry that this was a perfectly clean hit, and a victory for old-time hockey. Stand ’em up and knock ’em down.
I can’t argue with the reasoning. Under the criteria the EIHL currently use, the decision is right. The video, which you can see below, is (and I happily admit this) at best inconclusive on proving a head hit. Under the current EIHL rules, the penalty can be overturned, and has been.
However, the reaction from UK hockey is precisely what I was talking about yesterday. It’s a classic example of the UK hockey fan mentality. “If it’s not crystal-clearly a bad hit, it must be perfectly clean).
Here is the hit (press the “skip” button to skip the long highlights and go straight to the hit itself):
Firstly, both camera angles are in just about the worst possible place they could be-the first shows nothing and the second has Ward’s body completely obscured at the moment of contact-so sure, there’s reasonable doubt over a head hit.
But this is what the hit reminds me of-another hit, which caused the receiver a concussion and got a two-game suspension despite not being to the head:
Both hits have the hitting player coming from the rear, and making contact with a player facing away from them. Both hits (assuming that the Sestito hit IS to the body) are shoulder-to-shoulder-area (although Hjalmarsson’s slightly more from behind), and both hits cause a player’s head to make violent contact with the glass.
And, based on today’s evidence, UK fans seem to think both hits are perfectly legal.
On seeing the Sestito video, I’ve revised my opinion of whether or not it was a check directly to the head-you simply can’t tell. I haven’t revised my opinion that it was illegal. And I still think that it proves attitudes of UK hockey fans Let me explain.
Under the precise wording of the IIHF rule, which defines a check to the head as:
a check or blow, with any part of the body, to the head and neck area of an opposing player or which “drives” or “forces” the head of an opposing player into the protective glass or boards…
the EIHL can claim it was clean as there is no prove of either direce head and neck contact or that Sestito forced Ward’s head into the boards intentionally, thus avoiding both provisions of the check to the head rule and making their decision technically correct.
End of case, right?
Consider this, though…
The match penalty being “downgraded” due to lack of clear conclusive evidence is being used by UK hockey fans, especially those in Sheffield, as automatic proof that the hit was squeaky-clean.
It isn’t. It’s a hit that approaches from the blindside on to a clearly unprepared opponent. and smashes a player into the glass in such a way that his head appears to strike it.
While the EIHL’s decision is correct under their criteria, and it appears that the referee made the wrong call under the letter of the law (if I was calling that hit, based on the benefit of the video replay it would have been boarding, not “check to the head”) the downgrading of the penalty to a “game” penalty is being taken as proof the hit was clean and no penalty should have been called whatsoever.
In other words “if the call isn’t right, then clearly there was no offence”
And that’s a very dangerous attitude to have. It means that in the future, any similar hit will now have to be treated the same way. Including those which flirt with being from the blindside. The kind of hit that ended Marc Savards career, gave Sidney Crosby a concussion and is now being outlawed in the NHL.
Also, in the back of my mind, I know damn well that if that hit had been landed on a Steelers player and a similar decision made, the noises coming out of S.Yorkshire would have been very different. Just as they would be from every fan defending the hit had it been landed on them.
Yesterday I wrote about the EIHL needing to set a precedent. I suggested that ANY hit that causes a head injury should be worth a one-game suspension at minimum, with more added on the basis of intent.
I also said that UK hockey attitudes need to change, with less emphasis on “if it’s clean under the letter of the law then fine” and “hockey without hitting is nothing” and more emphasis on knowing and lessening the dangers of play in a fast and violent sport and working out ways to cut them down.
I stand by that.
I can’t help thinking that Sheffield have got away with one here. So (from reports) has Andy Ward.
Next time, if the rules aren’t toughened up further still, we might not be so lucky.