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The Anatomy of a Hit to the Head

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Why harsher punishments are required for headshots

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Los Angeles Kings Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

There has been quite a bit of hubbub in Ducks hockeyland as the fallout from the Andrew Cogliano suspension rains down. We at Anaheim Calling have received a healthy amount of criticism for managing editor JC McDonough’s article on why he agreed with the suspension.

I will acknowledge that fans and other observers are well within their rights to voice their displeasure with the suspension. Believe me, pretty much every one of us at Anaheim Calling are upset that Cogliano’s games played streak ended in such an unfortunate way. We love Cogs and what he brings to the team.

That said, one of the prevailing arguments against this suspension has been that the hit itself did not result in injury and was not malicious and, therefore, deserved maybe only a fine at max.

My issue with this argument is that it puts hits in the area of the head on the same level as other types of hits such as boarding or knee-to-knee hits. While all of these types of dangerous plays should be looked at with scrutiny, I believe that high hits like the one Cogliano delivered on Adrian Kempe should have a higher level of dissection and a lower minimum threshold of punishment.

The last thing the NHL wants to do is become the NFL. Football is currently going through an epidemic of brain injuries and CTE cases due not only to the nature of the game, but also to the league’s apparent lack of protection for players who go through the worst of these head injuries.

Hockey is a physical game, yes, but it is not the same as running into each other with heads down at full speed. Contact in hockey is generally much more varied and not often directed at the head. Which is why the NHL now has an opportunity that the NFL does not have: the ability to show that it wants to protect its players by bringing down harsh punishments upon those who deliver hits to the head area.

Now, let’s be perfectly clear: Cogliano is not a dirty player. He has been a finalist multiple times for the Bill Masterson trophy and is generally one of the most respected players in the league. Looking at the video, there does not appear to be any intent to injure on the part of Cogliano. He also has no history of suspensions or other disciplinary conduct.

However, when it comes to hits to a part of the body that scientifically can lead to a life or death health situation for a person, especially a professional athlete, a different standard needs to be applied. The best way to cut down and to eventually eliminate hits to the head is to come down much more harshly on them. If this were something like a knee-to-knee hit or a trip, this conversation would be much different.

But the fact that this was a hit to the head, regardless of whether or not the player was injured, automatically makes the play more dangerous.

Ducks fans should be very familiar with the type of damage head injuries can do. Paul Kariya, Simon Despres, Jakob Silfverberg, Ondrej Kase; all players who have missed significant amounts of time and/or had their NHL careers ended by hits to the head.

While Cogliano’s hit did not end up being too bad and was not malicious in any way, an admittedly harsh two game suspension to a player chasing a milestone sends a clear message to the league that this will not be tolerated.

Before you direct your wrath at me, yes I am fully aware of the Department of Player Safety’s complete lack of consistency with regards to punishing dangerous plays, including headshots. I will admit that I am not entirely confident that they will be consistent from here on out (especially given the lack of hearings on the other Kings hits against Ducks players during that same game).

But as JC said, they deserve to be harshly criticized for it. This is also a separate argument when looking at the suspension-worthiness of Cogliano’s hit in a vacuum.

As someone who has received two concussions and dealt with post-concussion syndrome before, I will agree that the hit itself was worthy of a heavy-handed two game ban, regardless of the consistency of the Department Of Player Safety.

We love this game, and we love this team and want the players who give us something to cheer for to be able to perform at their absolute best and lead healthy lives once they retire. As Ducks fans are aware, a career-ending head injury is not to be taken lightly.

Hits to the head are a serious matter, and for now, the harsh suspension for Cogliano demonstrates that the Department of Player Safety has at least somewhat of a grasp on the issue.

We understand that this is a very unpopular opinion amongst Ducks fans right now and we acknowledge that there are many people who have different views. We ask that when talking about such a hot-button issue that you argue your point respectfully.

We love this community and love this team, but we will not be an echo-chamber. Our opinions are just a few of many. Our criticism comes from a place of desiring the Anaheim Ducks and its players to better themselves so that they can be the team we wish they could be.

Healthy disagreement is part of the community, and we sincerely thank those of you who either agree with us, or respectfully disagree and state their reasons why. You are the reason we do this every day and make our jobs that much more fun and fulfilling.

- CJ Woodling, Associate Editor of, @CJWoodling