Hockey Canada examines non-checking options for younger players, QMJHL looks at head shots

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Considering the many headlines generated by Sidney Crosby’s continued struggles with post-concussion syndrome, it only makes sense that there might be a ripple effect. It’s one of those situations in which a prominent figure’s struggles shines an even brighter light on an already growing problem.

Montreal’s 2011 Molson Export Quebec Hockey Summit is one of the first big gatherings of hockey minds since the latest round of Crosby updates/rumors surfaced, so it only makes sense that troublesome hits are being discussed.

The first bit of interesting news is that Hockey Canada is hoping to give youth hockey players more options when it comes to playing in non-checking leagues along with enacting a “zero tolerance policy” when it comes to hits to the head. Vice president of hockey development Paul Carson addressed the changes they are about to institute and ones that they are pondering during the summit, which ends tomorrow.

“We need to be able to react in a positive way and make these changes, and control what we can control,” Carson said.

“Organizations like the CHL, the NHL — they all have their own responsibilities to look at the trends and determine what changes need to occur to create a safer environment for the players.

“Our job is to look at the grassroots level and respond accordingly.”

The Canadian Press points out that body checks are introduced at the peewee level (for children as young as 11 years old) in Canada, although Quebec is the exception as hitting isn’t introduced until the bantam level (13-14 years old). Carson hopes to give young players more options to ease into the physical side of the sport, including a process that would gradually introduce physicality. The CP reports that well-known hockey figures such as Luc Robitaille, Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Martin and Philadelphia Flyers checking forward Max Talbot are involved in the summit.

While Carson & Co. look for ways to address hitting at the sport’s roots, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) hopes to take a “proactive stance” toward hits to the head as well. It’s not clear what exactly that means just yet, although that new stance might be clearer after the summit is over.

During the Board of Governors meeting held just prior to the start of the 2011 Molson Export Quebec Hockey Summit in Montreal, the Governors took a proactive stance regarding hits to the head, mandating the League to come up with new protocols to educate teams and players in order to eliminate hits to the head.

“The Board of Govenors made it very clear that player safety must be at the forefront of the discussions,” said QMJHL Commissioner, Gilles Courteau. “I am extremely pleased with the proactive stance adopted by our clubs regarding player safety in our great game. Player safety will be one of the key topics discussed at the Summit and I certainly look forward sharing ideas with our partners.”

On a more tangible level, the QMJHL approved a measure to have four on-ice officials for every regular season and playoff game next season. The junior league expects that measure to increase overall safety.

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Ultimately, increasing the safety of the sport will likely be a gradual process without an obvious quick-fix solution. Even banning hits to the head won’t make them go away altogether; the hope is just that having clear-cut rules (and perhaps harsh punishments for rule violations) would force would-be repeat offenders to think twice before delivering a malicious hit.

Taking contact out of the game at its highest levels would rob the sport of one of its most thrilling features, but finding ways to reduce the risks for younger players is a great start toward improving player safety. We’ll keep an eye on the summit and other developments that might affect the way hits are delivered – especially since those changes could make their way to the NHL level at some point, too.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.