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The Globe and Mail

Ken Dryden answers questions about hockey violence

In the story he wrote for Saturday's Globe and Mail, hockey legend, author and MP Ken Dryden suggested that our attitudes toward hockey violence need to evolve -- just as attitudes have evolved regarding smoking and drunk driving.

He asked the question: How could we be so stupid? When the human head is jarred, the brain moves, ricocheting back and forth, colliding with the sides of the skull, like a superball in a squash court. With hard-enough contact, the brain bleeds. And the parts inside it - the neurons and pathways that we use to think, learn and remember - get damaged. Why would we ever have thought otherwise?

How could we be so stupid?

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Mr. Dryden maintains that for the sake of the players and fans and the game itself, the sport needs to change. He joined us on March 14 to discuss this issue, and said he was struck with the sense of urgency and the love of hockey that was implicit in the questions people asked.

Mr Dryden was a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens from 1971 to 1979, during which the team won six Stanley Cups. He is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and the International Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame. He is also a lawyer and a bestselling author. Mr. Dryden has been the member of Parliament for the York Centre since 2004.

The Globe and Mail: Welcome to today's discussion. We are very happy to have hockey legend Ken Dryden with us. We have already had a flood of questions for him, so let's get started. We will try to get to as many questions as possible.

Amanda W: I am the type of fan the NHL is desperately trying to draw in and the NHL's response to safety concerns is leaving me disillusioned and wondering whether I should be spending my time and money on this sport anymore. As fans, what can we do to get the message to the people ultimately in charge of changing the rules?

Ken Dryden: Thanks, Amanda. I think you do it just the way you are doing it now. Head injuries are becoming the focus for the sports' networks now, radio and TV. Even newspapers are carrying this on their front pages. TV news as well. I think this is the moment to bring this to a focus for the NHL. This is not a periodic problem that needs to be "managed" and gotten through. This is a forever question - the same as for football - so it needs to be dealt with this way.

paul sheridan: Ken, Your thoughts......would a larger 'European' ice surface well, changes to rules like 'icing' and the 'two line' off-side pass......and then of changes.......shoulder and elbow pads are now like weapons. Thanks.

Ken Dryden: Thanks, Paul. All of those things you mentioned might be part of the answer. I think the key now is to get the NHL to shift their angle. To know that this is a permanent problem to deal with. To come up with a plan at their GM's meetings this week which will include some steps for between now and the end of the year - and this isn't easy because it's the most competitive part of the schedule. But as part of that plan to be for after the season, to set up a panel of respected people inside and outside the NHL, from the medical community, to begin getting at this. Perhaps to have a big public discussion - covered by all the networks - that starts to look at what a tough, competitive, but less dangerous game might look like. I'll leave that here for the moment, but I've sure we'll get back to it later in the chat. But some plan that is serious, ambitious, acknowledging that this is a permanent problem to be addressed.

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Craig Jones: Ken: Thanks for stating the obvious. I have long thought that Don Cherry's celebratory rock'em sock'em nonsense has desensitized us to the potential harm in hockey violence. I know the game is fast. I know it's physical -- but the kind of violence we see is also a matter of hockey culture which has been (in my view) poisoned by the rock'em sock'em ethic.

Ken Dryden: Thanks, Craig. Hockey is a hard game. But it can also be smart. At any time, there are some things we don't know. Or things that we kind of know but don't want to know. Head injuries and the extremes of "rock 'em sock 'em", whatever we should have know, we absolutely do know now. No debate, no excuses. Who are the best players of all time? How have they played? Have they been the fighters and head-hunters? Not even close. They show their competitiveness in other ways. The game has changed and become better in most ways. It can again.

Fred Garvin: Why do you think society seems to be heading towards an Ultimate Fighting mentality, Ken?

Ken Dryden: Thanks, Fred. That's a very good question. I don't think society as a whole is, but there is no doubt we are in a time of pushing the extremes in every field. I think part of a willingness for that, though, is not knowing the consequences of what we're watching. As a kid, I used to love watching boxing on TV. Now I can't have it on. Then I didn't know what it did to the brain and what the future lives of these boxers would be. Now I know.

Guest: So do you think fighting should be banned from hockey?

Ken Dryden: Thanks. Guest. I've always thought hockey could do without fighting the way every other major sport handles it - football, baseball, basketball, soccer. But I'm not sure this is the time to make that the focus. Targeting that in the past hasn't worked. I think the way to get at it now is through the undeniable damage of head injuries and focusing on how to rethink how the game is played to make it work into the future. Then fighting will become part of that discussion.

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Robyn Flynn: Hi Ken, do you think that there's a place in hockey for "roughness"? Has it just gotten out of hand? I think that headshots and smashing guys into the stanchion is going too far, but I appreciate a good hockey fight from time to time...

Ken Dryden: Thanks, Robyn. I think there is absolutely a place in hockey for "roughness." Played on ice, with boards hemming you in, going as fast as players go, there are going to be endless collisions. And that's fine; that's exciting; that's part of the test and the contest. But the impact of those collisions is now far greater than before because the players are bigger and move faster. That's where the focus needs to be. To know the implications of this, to know something can be done, and to do it.

Guest: Ken if you were in control what would you do to prevent an incident like the Chara hit on Pacioretty?

Ken Dryden: Thanks, Guest. I have only seen clips of the incident. There are probably better angles I didn't see. But from what I did see, it wasn't any extreme action of Chara that caused the injury. It was Pacioretty running head first into something hard and unmovable. First, I think anything - stanchion, glass etc. - that might come into play like that has to be breakable or movable to diminish the force of impact - or not be there. As for Chara, the only thing I saw him do wrong - and by the NHL's interpretation of the rules, even that wasn't wrong - he hit Pacioretty after Pacioretty had given up the puck. And that's interference, except the NHL calls that "finishing the check." This is a whole other question, and I'm sure in the other questions we'll get to that.

nafio: Ken, do you think the NHL is hesitant to address these issues of excessive violence in their games for fear that should they crack down on checking, fighting etc..., they will lose the interest of some spectators? And if so, do you think this would be the case - if the sport were less violent, that it would be less appealing to some fans? In other words, is the NHL trying to become the new WWE/UFC?

Ken Dryden: Thanks, Nafio. I think that is a fear that many in the NHL hold. But it's always been my argument that this image of hockey has kept hockey - except in Canada and in a few of the European countries - on the fringes of public acceptability. You know the stereotypes of hockey not just in the US but among those in Canada who aren't fans. I think hockey is the most exciting game of all, and I think many more people would feel the same way if they hadn't closed their eyes to it because of this image. And beyond that, whatever some may feel, with the kinds of injuries that are happening, with what science knows, the costs in terms of lawsuits in the future will get many in the NHL to think again.

Samuel Getachew: When I was in Ethiopia visiting my family members a year ago - because most knew I am from Canada, they kept asking me about hockey yet they also asked - "why do most Canadians like to fight". So the question is - hockey is becoming a sport less attractive for Canada's reputation abroad and for our new Canadians here in Canada. What should I tell them if they were to ask me once again when I visit Ethiopia in a month and to the new Canadians here in Toronto? Should we just avoid young children from watching hockey all together for the potential violence we often witness when ever we watch the game?

Ken Dryden: Thanks, Samuel. That's the good hard question. I'm not sure you can tell them anything different from what you have told them before - now. But that is why we and lots of others are having this kind of conversation. Hockey can change. Hockey has always changed. As long as there's ice and skates and players to compete, it will be great and exciting. Players will adapt and find other ways to compete just as hard. That's what they've always done. The key is make hockey all those things, and smart too.

Maurice: Ken, having only lived in Canada a few years I observe this issue with interest. I have seen other physical sports in the world deal with major problems like this and it is never easy to convince the 'establishment' that runs the game that change is required. Hockey is a great game that is being ruined by the 'hard-man' culture that tolerates this reckless kind of physicality. The game can still be physical without being violent. The fans and other interests have the power to demand change.

Ken Dryden: Thanks, Maurice. You're right. Football has a huge on-going problem. Does anyone think for a moment that its players, their agents, their families (especially their wives and partners), and lawyers aren't focused on this? Absolutely they are. And the lawsuits and fights in the future are going to be so much greater and costly. It's the same for hockey. This is NOT a problem that is going away. It will only be far greater. So, NOW is the time.

desinitelife: How do you feel about Don Cherry's comments on Saturday during HNIC?

Ken Dryden: Thanks, desiinitelife, but I didn't see them or hear about them.

Dr Kenneth Bocking: Ken, I am a retired General Surgeon in St Thomas,Ont.I coached and was team Dr on a competitive hockey team for about 10 years.My son played with Joe Thornton on that team until Joe went on to Jr A.My son sufferred 2 concussions playing Jr B hckey for St. Thomas.Both were caused by blind sided hits to the head where no penalty was called.After his 2nd hit he had post concussion syndrome for 2 or3 months.He was in University and this was probably one of the most stressfull times of our lives.I called Brent Ladds,President of the OHA and he sat down with myself and Dr.Pat Bishop rom Waterloo and we decided thier neede to be a Head Checking Penalty in the OHA as severe as the one for checking from behind.This passed and a Head Checking penalty was added to the rules for the OHA and then shortly after The CHA and University hockey adopted it.I took my concerns to Colin Campbell at that time and got absolutely nowhere.This is 12 years ago.I do not think we have all been stupid about the damage that head checks can cause but certainly the NHL and NHLPA were aware of our concerns 12 years ago.I find it laughable that it has taken 10 or 12 years for the Powers that be in the NHL to finally ecocognize there is a problem and it is not going to just go away on its own.Not all of us were stupid but the decision makers in the NHL were .

Ken Dryden: Thanks, Dr. Bocking. I'm sorry this has been your son's experience. Sometimes, people are just not ready to listen or do something. It's the same for all of us. The key is to leap on the moment when it presents itself. As you know, this isn't about the Pacioretty hit. Even in my case, I had written all of the article before that moment. In many ways, the Pacioretty hit is one of the least good examples because it seems to me less about the hit itself and more about the arena structures. It's all the others. But this hit has given attention to something that, as you say, could have had attention long before. It is time to make the most of the moment. And for the NHL and its GMs etc, to know, to absolutely know, that this is a problem to the game as it now is, and these incidents will happen again and again - with all the damage that does to people and a game - if something isn't done.

Fred Garvin: Just a statement and not a question here: Kudos to Dr. Bocking for being pro-active!

RdA Hockey Mom: The GTHL falls into your riding. The GTHL is the largest association for minor hockey in the world - 40000 players, 2800 teams. We need the GTHL to be more proactive about the safety of minor hockey players than ever before. The issue in the NHL is sad and difficult but it has enough media attention and talking heads to work it through. But no one seems to be looking at the impact on minor hockey - and the numbers are SCREAMING - that there are HUGE issues in minor hockey. Can you formulate a committee to help address these issues at the minor hockey level? Can you help us change things for kids in hockey right now? (not 3 or 5 or 10 years from now)? We need to get hitting out of minor hockey. The GTHL and the referees who watch over the games have no more control than what is happening in the NHL. Hockey enrollment numbers are down considerably. Some of this is being blamed on immigrants who aren't attracted to the sport. I can tell you that on my 2 sons' teams, the majority of "anglo"/long-residing parents are re-thinking participating in hockey because of hitting. The risks are too high for anyone to consider this reasonable. Should we be pressuring hockey's minor sponsors - Scotiabank and Canadian Tire -- just like Air Canada, Tim Hortons are doing in the NHL? Who is looking at this issue and speaking for our young hockey players?

Ken Dryden: Thanks, RdA hockey mom. The impact, as you say, is greater in minor hockey because of the number of players and their age, but part of minor hockey for the kids and their coaches, managers and many parents, is the fun of replicating the NHL experience. To dream, to fantasize about it, to play it out. I think that for minor hockey to change to the extent it needs to, the NHL will need to take the lead. That panel I mentioned early in the chat, the kind of big, public conference covered, perhaps live, by the sports networks, would absolutely have one of its focuses minor hockey.

Larry: Hi Ken, I grew up on a diet of Canadiens dynasties and have the utmost respect for you. However, other than state that there are problems, you've yet to state what changes you would suggest be implemented. Could please lay out some specific changes you'd like to see.

Ken Dryden: Thanks, Larry. We all have our pet ideas, but the most important thing now is to get the NHL to treat this with the seriousness and ambition and urgency. For them to come up with a plan - from now until the end of the season; the panel, the conference etc. etc. after the season and the on-going reporting etc. that such a panel would do. To answer your question briefly - I think the greatest impact would come from eliminating "Finishing your check." So many injuries happen after a player has given up the puck and isn't entirely prepared to be hit. More importantly, it would force the "hitter" to control his speed. If he didn't arrive in time, and couldn't stop, he'd get a penalty. Coaches recognized before the problem of the force of collisions by having teammates run interference for their teammate-puckcarrier. That was eliminated as it should have been. Put the onus where the onus should be - on the "hitter." He wouldn't be able to "hunt" the puckcarrier with abandon. He would have to slow down - less impact, more time for the puckcarrier to make his play. And something that is called interference if someone doesn't have the puck the rest of the time, would properly be called interference. This is just one idea to put into the hopper of that expert panel for them to consider.

The Globe and Mail: That is all the time we have for today's discussion. Thanks first of all to Ken Dryden for taking the time to join us, and also to all of you who sent in your questions. (We tried to get to as many of them as possible.)

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