Shoulder pads don’t have to be weapons

My kid is the same age as Brendan Shanahan’s (see article below). The fact that the VP of Player Safety has extra incentive to get this right is the best news I’ve heard in a long while. When I was a kid (and back then they allowed body-checking at all levels) the checker could injure himself if he was careless, reckless, or just incompetent. You used to have to be tough to withstand the force of your own checks. If you weren’t, you didn’t check as hard. And nobody checked like they do today, because they (we) weren’t stupid, and even the toughest player wasn’t as impervious as anyone in 2012 can be for about a hundred bucks. With today’s armor, the risk to the checker’s shoulders or elbows is about zero.

With regard to dangerous hits, we often hear that “respect” has gone out of the game. I doubt it. It’s the risk of injury for the checker that’s gone out of the game. And — for some reason — it’s easier to get players to respect (read: protect) themselves than it is to get them to respect their opponents.

Boston Globe: NHL Seeks Improvements in Equipment Safety

Jack Shanahan’s father is a powerful man in hockey. The 9-year-old is the son of Brendan Shanahan, [...] current NHL senior vice president of player safety. Naturally, young Jack plays hockey.

The old man [...] is as firm with his own boy as he is with the boys whose tempers he helps to oversee. When Jack is old enough to check, he will have to wear different gear.

“They’re too hard,’’ Shanahan said of his son’s shoulder pads. “When he gets to an age where there’s body checking, I won’t let him wear things like this.’’

In his first year as NHL disciplinarian, Shanahan has studied the effects of some of the world’s fittest athletes using protective equipment as weapons. Some of the current gear is considered dangerous on the bodies of pre-teens. Strap those unforgiving pads on the shoulders and elbows of a fitness freak chasing down an unsuspecting opponent and the result can be disastrous.

“Personally, I’d rather have a player with a separated shoulder than someone with a concussion,’’ said Bruins president Cam Neely earlier this month. “I don’t know why it’s that difficult to look at the equipment and say, ‘We really need to do something with the shoulder pads and elbow pads.’ ’’

[...] [H]ockey has become more dangerous with equipment evolution. Neely was at the helm of a Boston club missing Nathan Horton and Adam McQuaid in the playoffs because of concussions.

It’s difficult to measure how much of a factor equipment played in their head injuries. [...] But the equipment players are wearing has made them fearless. [...] The game’s check-finishing culture, coupled with the pads’ rigidity, has been a 1-2 wallop. The result: too many players hearing birdies chirp in their heads.

[...] Equipment manufacturers have been conflicted. Players have repeatedly told them what they want. And what they want is stuff that will make them faster, lighter, and stronger. The manufacturers listened. Maybe too well.

The problem with the most dangerous pads is that they deliver force – and often trauma – on a targeted and concentrated surface area. Think of a player, wearing a plastic elbow pad, who catches an opponent in the head. When he swings his elbow and connects, he delivers energy via a rock-hard shell. The energy does not effectively dissipate upon contact.

“The elbow pad is too rigid,’’ said Philippe Dube, Reebok-CCM Hockey general manager. “The impact for the receiving player is very localized.’’

All parties – the NHL, the Players Association, manufacturers – recognize the imperative to dial back the dangerous equipment. Reebok-CCM is collaborating with researchers from the University of Ottawa to test equipment in high-impact situations. The aim is to design equipment that serves the dual purpose of protecting both players during a collision.

Reebok-CCM dubs its next-generation gear “Crazy Light.’’ The Crazy Light shoulder pads weigh 750 grams. Traditional shoulder pads weigh 1,000-1,500 grams. The pads feature a softer material called UFoam instead of hard plastic.

The line is undergoing testing. Select players, including Reebok-CCM endorsers, tested the new pads in the 2011-12 season. The advantage to the Crazy Light line, according to Dube, is how it protects the wearer while also spreading out impact.

“It’s more diffuse,’’ Dube said. “There is a reduced stress of impact. It also absorbs more impact. It reduces the angular acceleration, which is key.’’

According to Shanahan, some players have tested the softer shoulder pads. Like Dube, Shanahan does not have a timetable as to when such pads will become standard.

“We’re going in a different direction now, where we’re trying to make it more streamlined, where it’s as protective, but softer and safer,’’ Shanahan said. “Player input is important as well.

“Safety is first and foremost. We also don’t want to adversely affect performance. That’s why we’re taking our time and trying to do it the right way. We don’t want to create a new problem by trying to fix one.’’

 

 
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