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Rossi: It's better for NHL to keep calling boarding

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The Maple Leaf's Mike Brown hits the Penguins' Matt Cooke from behind against the boards at Consol Energy Center Jan. 23, 2013.

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Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

There is a boarding problem in the NHL.

The first week of this truncated season proved the league is seriously trying to fix it.

After games in cities from Pittsburgh to Edmonton, there were grumblings from players about the frequency with which boarding penalties have been assessed.

That was the case Wednesday after the Penguins' 5-2 loss to Toronto. Inside the dressing room at Consol Energy Center, players said they understood boarding was being paid closer attention by referees.

However, players noted, the standard for what constitutes boarding appeared to be inconsistent.

Rule 41.4 in the NHL Rule Book:

“A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously. ... There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the Referees.”

Actually, there needs to be a rule by which players judge what is and is not acceptable, and it should be this: Can he see me?

“Unsuspecting hits are a big culprit for concussion,” said Micky Collins, director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program. “When a player gets hit from behind, it becomes about body control, postural control and neck strength — and there is none for a player who can't brace for a hit.”

Collins favors any rule that would eliminate dangerous hits “so long as it doesn't take away from the integrity of the game.”

Cracking down on boarding is no great harm to the integrity of hockey.

Neither is eliminating head shots completely.

Just because concussion poster-boy Sidney Crosby is feeling normal again does not mean the NHL should stop taking steps in the name of head safety.

That includes adhering strictly to return-to-play protocol that anecdotally was not always followed by clubs last season.

A recent study conducted by Collins and colleagues found that 1 in 4 youth athletes with concussions could have been cleared for return to play before he or she was ready.

In the NHL, players must reach exertion — physical and cognitive — before taking their final clearance examinations.

That is not always the case at the youth levels, Collins said.

Kids are watching. More important, so are their parents.

Across the board, the NHL needs to keep that in mind when it comes to safety measures.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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