"People die every day. If you don't want to get hurt, don't play the game." That was Mike Milbury on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday about making the NHL safer with better equipment and rules. The former player and general manager, who says the debate has reached "the point of nausea," doesn't believe that head shots or fighting need to be modified. You may disagree, but at least Milbury's take is consistent. As opposed to the hokey-pokey, one-foot-in and one-foot-out brigade who are trying to somehow make fighting and head shots "safer" in the sport with soft "fighter's" helmets.
There are no safe head hits - such as the blindside cranium shot by Curtis Glencross of the Calgary Flames that sidelined Chris Drury of the New York Rangers two hours after Milbury uttered his bloody-minded take on the subject. There are no safe punches to the face - such as the haymakers Andrew Peters of the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators rookie Matt Carkner tossed at each other Saturday. You can't be half pregnant, and you can't find safe ways to violently hit the head. So with due respect to panelist Pierre LeBrun for introducing a "safer" helmet for fighters on Hockey Night, it's like a filter on a cigarette - just an illusion of safety. Even Mike Milbury sees that.
Do As I Do
Think TV plays no part in head injuries?
Many hockey people lionize Atlanta Thrashers right winger Colby Armstrong, whose stock-in-trade is the ambush bodycheck to a vulnerable opponent's head. It's very likely Michael Liambas of the OHL's Erie Otters saw Armstrong's handiwork on TV and believed that it was the quick way to the NHL. So it comes as little surprise that, given a free shot, the 20-year-old junior player had his TV moment, stapling the head of 16-year-old Ben Fanelli of the Kitchener Rangers to the boards after running at the vulnerable player. Fanelli's been released from hospital and is recovering at home in Oakville, Ont. Liambas was suspended for the rest of his final OHL season. Observers professed shock and surprise that such a vicious hit could happen. Why?
The Best Blade Plans
This was an easy weekend for Craig Simpson. The lead analyst for Hockey Night had a Toronto-based game on Saturday. Which meant that he didn't have to board a red-eye flight from Vancouver, get a couple of hours sleep, then skate live in Battle Of the Blades last night, as he did two weeks ago. "I knew that weekend was going to be a long one," Simpson told Usual Suspects backstage at Maple Leaf Gardens, recalling the cross-country trek two weeks ago. "I tweaked my groin on Tuesday and hurt my back on Thursday, which added to the drama. My producer Sherali Najak asked me if I wanted an eastern game, but I said no. I got home Sunday, slept four hours and headed here for a long day."
With just Simpson and two other finalists left heading into another next elimination tonight, the long practice hours from Tuesday to Sunday each week with skating partner Jamie Salé were taking a toll. "The reasons we retired have all come to the forefront," laughed Simpson, who retired from the NHL in 1995 because of a bad back.
"I had some incredible toe-pick falls. One time I thought I broke ribs, I landed right on myself. But now I don't even think about the skates."
Simpson's slapstick Austin Powers routine in a crushed purple velvet suit a week ago was a droll change for the normally straightforward NHL vet, who hasn't been home in Edmonton since Sept. 23. "This is good for me, it's forced me outside my box. I don't goof around on air. Jim [Hughson]and I pride ourselves on doing a no-nonsense show. But this has been good for me, being the guy you are with your buddies." Simpson and Salé won top marks from the judges for the madcap skate.
So what's the feedback been from the NHL players and coaches he covers?
"The players are awesome. Jacques Martin, the Montreal coach, said I'm watching, keep it up. Glen Sather called, so did Craig MacTavish. You're potentially embarrassing yourself. But I get to skate with a lovely gal like Jamie Salé and learn something new. I won't die if I don't win, but I've come this far, so …"
Simpson's fate is decided Monday at 8 p.m. (Eastern)
Why Milbury misses Al Strachan, Part 2: The Hockey Night Hotstove provocateur mentioned his buddy (this time by name) while dissing the (ahem) colourful tie selections of our Globe and Mail colleague David Shoalts, the latest to fill the Strach Gap on the popular segment. "Is that a '60s headband?" Milbury asked of Shoalts' tie.
Why Glen Suitor needs a hobby: TSN showed the water taxi that links exotic points of Vancouver on its B.C. Lions-Edmonton Eskimos telecast. Which prompted Suitor to rhapsodize about water-borne travel.
Halfway though, the TSN football analyst-cum-tour guide paused and said, "I'm starting to sound like Cliff Clavin here …"
Shot of the week: Quarterback Michael Bishop putting his Winnipeg Blue Bombers jersey on backward in the dressing room.
The Bombers go on lose to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and be eliminated from the CFL playoff picture. You write the punchline.