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Rossi: Accept it: danger is part of deal in NHL

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Sunday, March 14, 2010
 

On the second day of high school football practice during my sophomore year, a senior linebacker busted through a gap on a dummy-team offensive line and crushed a fairly clueless fullback with force.

I was that fullback.

A few plays later I alerted a coach to the blurred vision and was removed from practice. After a night in the hospital for observation I was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, and I didn't play for another 10 weeks.

Four months after football season ended a blade-hockey defenseman was lightly bumped while retrieving the ball in the defensive zone. Teammates said the following few shifts showed that defenseman skating with a slower stride, his reaction to plays a few seconds off.

I was that defenseman.

A day later, a doctor warned me against playing contact sports for at least six months because of my second diagnosed concussion in less than a year.

Almost 16 years and an auto accident-induced concussion later I am still unable to sleep well through a majority of nights and I experience occasional startled reactions to the simplest of movements. I cannot say for certain those conditions are because of my concussions, but I don't remember them from before my head was repeatedly hit.

So, I suspect readers may be surprised that I have no problem with the controversial hit by Penguins winger Matt Cooke on Boston center Marc Savard last Sunday at Mellon Arena - even though Savard was left with a Grade 2 concussion.

Cooke's hit was legal by current NHL rules, a league with a thematic rule of accepted violence. These literal and thematic rules are understood when players sign an NHL contract, as is the cold reality that every player's next shift could be his last.

I do more than feel for Savard. I fear for him because I suspect his life has been forever changed by this serious concussion. I also am thrilled that league general managers have taken a big step toward eliminating blind-side hits by drafting a proposed rule change for next season.

Those hits should be prevented as much as possible, but they cannot be taken out of this game as long as it is played in a confined space at a fast pace by elite athletes trained to be aggressive.

If players aren't comfortable with the possibility of serious head injuries, if they don't like it that violence has been and will be a part of the NHL, they should consider switching professions.

Danger is part of the deal.

FOUR IN PLAY

The four players (not stationed in Pittsburgh or Washington) that the NHL should push for the talk-show circuit:

1 - ZACH PARISE

Devils

He plays in Newark, but his game-personality combo belongs on Broadway.

2 - STEVEN STAMKOS

Lightning

Probably on his way to the least talked-about 50-goal season in recent memory.

3 - ANZE KOPITAR/DREW DOUGHTY (tie)

Kings

They're the dynamic duo that has LA-LA Land looking at pucks again.

4 - JONATHAN TOEWS

Blackhawks

You could count on one hand his bad plays and wrong words.

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