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.