HEAD ON A SWIVEL

"Protect yourself at all times." These are the instructions that boxers receive prior to a match. All hockey players need to start doing the same thing.

Last week Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers got buried behind his net by Tom Kuhnhacki of the Niagara IceDogs in a OHL game. Since then, Kuhnhacki has been suspended 20 games for his actions. He left his feet and caught Murphy square in the head. The suspension was warranted but I feel Murphy is also guilty.

He is guilty of not having good on ice awareness. Watch the video above and you can clearly see Murphy check over his right shoulder to see where the checking forward was coming from on that side but he does not look to his left at all. When he gets the puck he has absolutely no idea what is going on to his left. He is not ready to make a play with the puck or to protect himself from a checker. A quick glance to his left at any time and he would have been ready to absorb the hit or at least minimize its impact.

KEEP YA HEAD UP

Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming the victim here. I don’t want Murphy to be sidelined for any amount of time due to this ugly hit. I am trying to prove a point and this was a perfect example. So many players both young and old don’t have any on ice awareness. Watch a game at any level and you will see players put themselves into very vulnerable positions.

I always wanted to know where I was in relation to the boards. It can easily lead to an injury when you are either not far enough away from the boards or way to close. Learning to manage that distance is a skill that should be taught to very young players. A great example of this is Ryan Smyth. He manages that space as well as anyone is the league. When is the last time you saw Smyth really get hammered along the boards and injure himself?

Watching Gretzky carry the puck up the ice into the offensive zone was beautiful. He always seemed to know where his team mates were so he could make that beautiful pass for a nice tap in goal. Just as important to his success was knowing were the opposition players were so that he would not get hit hard in open ice. He knew where they were and avoided that contact. Many dman love step up and drop the hammer on players right at the blue line in the open ice. Think of Scott Stevens or Dion Phaneuf in todays NHL.

I am not suggesting that on ice awareness will end all concussions or injuries but I know it will reduce them. Another way to reduce them is with some old fashioned hockey. Players have to get back to defending themselves, especially dman. Getting your stick or elbow up just before a forward is going to run you on the forecheck will have a big impact on how he comes at you next time. Trust me, it will slow him down. Nobody wants to eat a stick or elbow pad every shift.

HEAL UP QUICK

 

I hope that Murphy is back playing very soon. He is a great player and team Canada needs his skill. I also hope that someone sits down with him to review his approach to retrieving pucks in his zone so that he can avoid these types of hits. Maybe a few clips of Nic Lidstrom would be a good place to start. Or another way to go would be to show Chris Pronger cross checking a forechecking player.

Either way he will be safer.

  • RexLibris

    Good read, Jason, thanks.

    I agree that most collisions like this are a combination of culpibility (score points for alliteration!). I also think that hockey-sense and vision are what can mean the difference between a great junior/minor league career and a good-to-great NHL career. It seems like if you can find someone who can think the game, it will factor into a greater impact on their career potential than sheer talent. Guys with marginal talent and a good hockey IQ usually last longer than guys with more talent and less vision. If only because they are less likely to get caught by a hit and become injured.

    Maybe it was a simple oversight on Murphy’s part and he does have better sense than that (although I’m sure someone will say that that sense has been first knocked out and then knocked in to him), but I really hope he can recover and put these kinds of injuries behind him for good. Cerebral injuries are the one kind that can’t be fixed with titanium replacements or arthroscopic surgery.

    Maybe we should just have all hockey players do like Sean Avery and remove their ring, wristwatch and grey matter before suiting up and going on to the ice.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Maybe we should just have all hockey players do like Sean Avery and remove their ring, wristwatch and grey matter before suiting up and going on to the ice.

      why not just remove players like Avery?

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    So Mr. Strudwick please answer a question I have had floating around in my head since Crosby went on LTIR. Are a lot of the injury’s we see related to the hard protective “Armour” you guys wear as compared to 25 years ago or is this more a result of bigger stronger faster? I know both play in to the injury thing. Is on Ice awareness taught as a protective strategy by all coaches or is it hit and miss?(no pun intended)
    PS Thanks for your years an an Oiler I look forward to some jewels of wisdom and insight!

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    And so The Argonaut deploys!!

    Nice first article Struds!

    The good thing about this case is it is so egregious that everyone has heard about it/seen it that it is natural for soliciting comment.

    The bad thing about this case is it is damn dirty regardless of whether Murphy is looking both ways (and I totally agree he is responsible for doing that and better learn quick). Kuhnhacki left his feet, full speed elbow to the head. Dirty, dirty, dirty.

    More interesting would be if Kuhnhacki hit him square and clean and still knocked him out (which there is a good chance he would have). In that case, the situation isn’t nearly as muddy. It would all be on Murphy and would have made a stronger case for defensive mindedness on the ice even during a time of crackdown by officials.

    also, it looks like there was a penalty on the play. I’m guessing it was because the goalie touched the puck outside the marked-off area… why wasn’t the play whistled down when Murphy touched the puck?? Also, doesn’t that make Kuhnhacki’s hit look even dumber… he just wasted a PP opportunity!

  • Slick

    Great read! Good lesson that needs to be learned by all young players.

    Completely agree with the old time hockey point, protecting yourself using an elbow or your stick may get you two minutes in the sin bin but it will also have an impact on how guys come at you next time around.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Very good first article and I agree 100%.

    I think the same is true for Ryan Miller the other night. Sure he isn’t suppose to be hit, but if a guy is coming at you full speed shouldn’t you anticipate some sort of contact?

  • Souby

    Thanks Jason. It is good to hear an opinion from someone who not only played, but played at the highest level. The results of this illegal hit are not good to say the least and the suspension is definitely justified, but you made a great point about Murphy not paying attention to his surrounding and how it possibly contributed to the extent of his injury.

    I have noticed the last number of years where you see a guy come around his net with his head down or a guy admires his pass or a guy turns his back to a guy along the boards to protect the puck. In most cases, there is a collision, the player(s) gets a bit shaken up but generally everyone is okay. The problem is, in cases like Murphy’s, serious injuries occur. I know the game is fast, but as your title says, you need to keep your head on a swivel.

    I agree with the NHL taking a hard-line stance on head shots, but I feel that the players need to be doing more to protect themselves from these situations. With the high speed of the game, that is easier said than done, but nonetheless, the players can’t always rely on the league to protect them…..just my 2 cents.

  • I tried it at home

    “Another way to reduce them is with some old fashioned hockey. Players have to get back to defending themselves, especially dman. Getting your stick or elbow up just before a forward is going to run you on the forecheck will have a big impact on how he comes at you next time. Trust me, it will slow him down. Nobody wants to eat a stick or elbow pad every shift.”

    Perfect example of this was Ryan Smyth’s elbow on Kunitz earlier this year. However, he was ejected from the game. They need to allow players to protect themselves.