Former veteran NHL official points to players’ mindsets when it comes to hits to the head

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Concussions are a near-constant part of sports discussions lately – from players getting injured and dealing with the symptoms to pundits wondering how leagues should curb their presence.

While the NHL might be going overboard at times in the suspensions being handed out for checks that sometimes seem like borderline hits, it’s nice to see that the league’s collective hearts are in the right place. Even if it may have ruined large portions of the careers of players such as Marc Savard and Eric Lindros to get to this point.

But what about the hearts and minds of the players themselves? Former NHL official Ray Scapinello (seen in this post’s main photo) wonders if the issue of hits to the heads and other injurious checks might really be in the way hockey players treat each other more than the way the league legislates the aftermath. He shared those feelings with the Canadian Press.

“In days gone by, you used to hit a guy just to separate the puck,” said Scapinello, who spent 33 years as a NHL linesman before retiring in 2004. “Now they hit to hurt. … Even the cleanest check in the world, they’ll try and knock your head off. I don’t know if it’s lack of respect—I really can’t put my finger on what it actually is.

“The whole mindset of players has to change.”

Obviously I don’t have the same fly-on-the-wall experience as Scapinello, but I wonder if the issue is two-fold. For one thing, players are simply getting larger, something that would be pretty difficult to legislate. Another factor is that people are simply more aware of concussions; head injuries that might have been classified as “getting your bell rung” are now being treated more carefully. It’s natural to look back to whatever era you grew up in/matured in/whatever as a better period, but maybe things are just different now without being categorically worse?

I mean, after all, hockey is a tough, physical sport that always was (and probably always will be) a rugged game.

Moving on, another veteran referee named Ron Hoggarth discussed the challenges faced by modern officials, particularly in the case of the league’s new rules about hits to the head and blindside hits.

Hoggarth still watches a lot of NHL games on television and believes the referees are also adjusting to the new penalty. A major component of Rule 48 is supplemental discipline, which essentially gives the league’s hockey operations staff an equal role in its enforcement.

As a result, he thinks officials are less likely to call the penalty on the ice.

“I wish they’d give a little more (control) back to the referees,” said Hoggarth. “With the head shots, I’d really like them to say, ‘here it is, you guys call it.’ If it’s wrong, we can change it afterwards.

“I see some hesitancy from the referees to call that.”

Obviously, the NHL’s rules on such hits constitute a work in progress. How are you feeling about the way the league is handling such issues? Do you agree with Hoggarth and Scapinello? Feel free to share your thoughts on these subjects in the comments.

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson