Dave Branch – OHL Comish – says Fighting not the problem
By terrance gavan
I have no idea if the Emperor – OHL commissioner Dave Branch – is wearing a tux or his birthday suit.
I do know that I went into last Wednesday’s hot stove night – organized by our own Scotty Morrison who once again managed to snag the Stanley Cup from the Hockey Hall of Fame – expecting banter and bonhomie from the assembled panel of guests that included former NHL players Ron Stackhouse, Walt McKechnie, Gary Inness, Scotty, and special guest, Branch, the commissioner of the OHL and president of the Canadian Hockey League.
We got the banter, some great stories and reminiscences from Stack, Inness, Walt and Morrison.
The heat jumped when the subject of head hits and the “new” NHL was broached in the question and answer round.
Some coaches and parents in the audience were interested in picking Branch’s brain regarding head shots, concussions and equipment.
It was illuminating.
Branch, who as the head honcho of junior hockey in Ontario, has instituted a number of forward leaning rules and decisions regarding head shots, concussions and the general demeanor of junior hockey in this country was asked a few cogent and thought provoking questions.
Branch was unwavering in his commitment to removing head shots, extraneous fisticuffs, and cheapy blindside hits from the junior game.
No surprise there.
He talked about new studies being done by Reebok who he says are instituting some equipment studies destined to investigate the
He explained that Reebok is undertaking some studies into whether equipment can be softened.
“Ron (Stackhouse) and Walt (McKechnie) can attest that in their days they played without a helmet and yet players were not getting concussions to the extent that they are today,” said Branch. He added that Reebok is investigating ways to shift the trending away from the Robocop design of today’s hard shelled equipment.
“How can we soften the equipment without taking away from the protective element?” said Branch. “Helmets – you can’t venture into that area and I don’t think we would want to – are not an issue in terms of causing injury, but elbow pads and shoulder pads are. We have to find some ways to serve the protective needs and concerns of the consumer, and their son’s and daughters.”
He explained that it’s a delicate dance.
“Maybe we should talk about educating players too… where they don’t think they’re invincible,” he said.
“You watch a situation where a guy is hit from behind and you ask yourself, ‘Why did that guy put himself in that position?’ And maybe it’s because they think they’re invincible. So there are a lot of real interesting dilemmas around this issue.”
From there we went to the real pivotal jump off point.
Old school, new school.
The instigator rule came under dissection. It’s a trending topic these days. Another Scotty Morrison, the writer, was on CBC Radio this week talking to that very point. He said there are some cogent arguments for the removal of the rule.
For the uninitiated, the NHL banned players from jumping into a fight as an act of retribution some years back. There were excellent reasons for removing mindless mayhem from the game. It was seen as a win-win for the NHL who was trying to find traction in the American audience.
Some of you may remember that those who deigned mess one hair on Wayne Gretzky’s darling coiffeur were destined to meet one Dave “Cement Head” Semenko.
Not in two months; not next week; not next period; but on the very next shift. Period.
The instigator rule was initiated to prevent acts of random violence by guys who, in another reincarnation, would probably be getting thumbs up from the likes of Julie Caesar or that finicky fiddler Nero.
Anyway, at the hot stove in Haliburton, it was pretty clear that there was support for the leavening of the instigator rule.
“Lack of respect.” That’s the term panelists and audience members came back to last Wednesday. It stems from people trying to get their heads around those blindside hits that are sidelining so many players. Like Marc Savard and Sidney Crosby.
“Players would not take liberties if they knew that fast train was coming,” is the argument.
I think that’s what guys in the striped shirts are supposed to instill.
Pretty clear that the instigator rule was undertaken to reduce fighting.
Which is the question I posed to Branch.
Globe columnist Jeff Blair wondered aloud last week whether the NHL was serious about head hits. With Socratic innocence Blair suggested that it really couldn’t address the problem of blows to the head unless they also addressed fighting, which by definition suggests multiple blows to the head. Cue the TSN highlight reel please.
I was surprised by Branch’s response.
There was an implied ambivalence about the subject. He said that fighting was not the problem.
Blind side head hits were the problem.
I used my mulligan to ponder the implied ambiguity in his response.
“Well, we had a young man die in a fight,” I said.
And Mr. Branch said: “You’re talking about Don Sanderson. In that case his helmet fell off.”
Ah, geez, Mr. Branch.
You had me at hello.
And you lost me at goodbye.
And that’s what happens when an Emperor drops his drawers.
On a brightly lit stage.