More progress for player safety: The OHL will switch to soft caps on pads next season

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The advancements in padding and other pieces of equipment presents an interesting dichotomy in sports. On paper, it would seem to keep athletes safer across the board. The only problem is that as helmets and pads inch closer to being indestructible, they shift from being articles of clothing meant for protection to dangerous weapons that players use against opponents. It’s an especially large problem when it comes to football helmets, but shoulder and elbow pads have become their own instruments of destruction in the sport of hockey.

Sidney Crosby and Marc Savard’s concussion issues are shining a strong light on player safety in the NHL, but it seems like the lower levels of the sport will serve as the laboratories for experiments of significant change first. In a previous post, we took a look at how Hockey Canada hopes to give its youngest players more non-checking options while the QMJHL is taking “proactive” measures to punish hits to the head. The OHL is another league that will take some serious measures to increase player safety by using soft cap shoulder and elbow pads during the 2011-12 season. The league claims it will provide harsher penalties for hits to the head as well, although they didn’t provide specifics to back up those comments.

A review of several player safety issues and equipment policies was also on the agenda and led to the decision that all OHL players will wear soft cap shoulder and elbow pads for the 2011-12 season.  The decision is made in the interest of player safety and working in partnership with the CHL’s equipment suppliers in an attempt to further reduce the number of head injuries suffered each season.  Furthermore in consideration of concussion awareness, the league will continue to reinforce player safety messages through educational videos while member club coaches will be emphasizing proper on-ice awareness.  It is also the position of the Board of Governors that the league be more strict in the discipline of players who are repeat offenders for checking to the head.

Interestingly enough, the OHL will also institute an automatic two-game suspension for goalies who leaving their crease to fight another goalie. (The Rick DiPietro’s of the future just breathed a serious sigh of relief.)

Of all the safety changes that other leagues have considered lately, going with soft caps on pads isthe idea that the NHL should look into as soon as possible. Perhaps there might be some complications as far as sponsorship deals, but one must assume that the league would find a way around such concerns, especially if the older, harder pads become scarcer every year anyway. We’ll certainly keep an eye out for studies to see if the OHL enjoys a tangible drop in head injuries next season and beyond.

The OHL deserves a lot of credit for instituting this change. Hopefully other leagues – including the NHL – will follow suit in the near future.

Bolts close gap on struggling Bruins in playoff race

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Well, that was quite a third period.

For the Boston Bruins, it was disastrous. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, it propelled them to a critical victory in the playoff race.

Nikita Kucherov completed the hat trick with a pair of goals in the final period and Jonathan Drouin scored what would eventually be the winner, as Tampa Bay snapped its own three-game losing streak in a 6-3 victory, putting the Bolts within three points of the final wild card spot — held by the Bruins — in the Eastern Conference.

The Drouin goal — his 18th of the season but first since Feb. 19, a span of 13 games — is probably one Tuukka Rask would like back.

Drouin teed up the slap shot from the faceoff circle, beating Rask under the left arm.

And just like that, the Bruins have lost four consecutive games. On Saturday, they face the New York Islanders, another team looking to catch Boston in the wild card race.

Read more: Remember this stretch if Bruins settle for a wild card spot (or worse?)

The Islanders are only two points back of Boston.

Despite the win, there was bad news for the Lightning during this game, as defenseman Jason Garrison left with an injury.

From NHL.com:

The play occurred behind the Lightning goal, Garrison appearing to get his left leg rolled up from behind by a Bruin. Garrison had to be helped off the ice by Anton Stralman and Brayden Point and headed back to the Bolts’ locker room.

The team announced during the second intermission that Garrison sustained a lower-body injury. He did not return to the game.

Video: Ovechkin rocks custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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As promised, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin rocked a pair of custom skates in honor of Russian Heritage Night on Thursday.

On his right skate, he paid tribute to the United States with a custom design, and paid tribute to his home nation on his left skate while taking the pre-game warm-up prior to facing the Columbus Blue Jackets.

He’ll be auctioning off the skates, as well.

From CSN Mid-Atlantic:

The skates were painted by noted custom shoe artists Nick Avery and Polo Kerber, whom Ovechkin personally selected. The skates feature the U.S. and Russia flags as well as the Capitol Building and Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Video: Crosby slash leaves Methot’s finger bloodied and injured (Updated)

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Sidney Crosby has made news lately for his goal scoring and his use of the stick.

He speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt the other night, and on Thursday he delivered a slash to Senators defenseman Marc Methot, who has since not returned to the game.

The slash rendered a finger on Methot’s left hand bloodied and injured. It certainly didn’t look good as Method (calmly) skated to the bench.

There was no call on the play.

Updated: Methot won’t return to this game.

Show me the money! Nylander sets Leafs rookie record with latest assist

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Toronto’s talented rookies were back at it again Thursday, as William Nylander and Auston Matthews combined to set up the Maple Leafs’ first goal versus the New Jersey Devils.

Nylander added the second assist on the power play goal, giving him 35 helpers on the season.

That’s significant for a couple of reasons: He extends his point streak to 10 games, which sets a new Leafs rookie record. And the assist reportedly secured him another entry-level bonus:

Not bad.