Foster was taken from the ice by a stretcher during a long delay, a scene we've witnessed too many times in hockey. Here's a report on the game from ESPN:
David Pollack of the Mercury News wondered if Mitchell, who received a tripping minor, will get some additional punishment from the NHL. But that debate is a distraction from the real issue at hand, which is the League's refusal to protect its players by instituting a no-brainer policy of "no-touch" icing.
The money quote came from Sharks coach Ron Wilson after the game:
"It's just one of those things that tell you that there should be automatic icing ... I guess that's a play where the fans want to see a big car wreck like that."The fans? The fans don't make the rules, Ronnie, or else the instigator would have been dropped 10 years ago in order to help rid the game of the cheap stuff. No, it's the NHL's power-brokers that keep touch icing in hockey, because they believe the ratio of broken legs to defensive players negating icing calls is acceptable. The other side of the debate is... Don Cherry? The living embodiment of rock'em, sock'em hockey? Yup: Grapes is tired of seeing these injuries happen for no reason other than an occasional jolt of energy as players race to the boards.
Injuries like the one Pat Peake suffered, as recalled by Mirtle in his conversation with the former NHLer:
A superstar in junior hockey - he was named the Canadian Hockey League player of the year in 1993 - Peake was chasing down a puck, trying to beat an icing call during the 1996 playoffs when he tripped and collided feet first with the end boards, shattering his right heel. Doctors claimed they had seen an injury of similar severity only in construction workers who had fallen from high rises.
Peake would attempt numerous comebacks over the next two seasons, playing in a total of eight professional games while battling continued pain in his rebuilt heel. In his final game, the only one he would play in the 1997-98 season, he tore several tendons in his ankle in that same troubled foot. He retired from hockey the following fall at age 25, and altogether has had more than 10 operations on his heel.
Foster is 26 years old, and sees his season end before getting a chance to help the Wild in the postseason. He was playing his best hockey heading into the playoffs, and so naturally the calls from the Minnesota media for Mitchell to be put in solitary have risen. But that obscures the real issue here, which is that this injury never needed to happen if the NHL hadn't taken a hard line against the "no-touch" icing that exists on so many other levels.
If you believe "no-touch" icing takes some excitement out of the game, how about outlawing contact between players as they race for the puck on a potential icing call? Maybe that keeps Mitchell's hands off of Foster. Maybe that keeps Foster out of the hospital.
The irony that the NHL is willing to take drastic measures in the name of safety -- tossing up mosquito netting around the rink and discussing mandatory neck guards for professional players -- but refuses to address a fundamentally flawed and dangerous rule. And that dichotomy is as painful as anything Kurtis Foster went through last night.
UPDATE: As usual, Chuq Von Rospach sees things a little differently and, as usual, offers a logical solution: Tougher penalties for infractions during icing plays.