There is no doubt that some players will be forced to dramatically adjust their checking styles this season, lest they get nailed by by the Central Hockey League's crackdown on illegal hits to the head.
Wichita Thunder veteran Daniel Tetrault isn't among them. The defenseman prides himself on hitting the right way, the clean way.
"Throughout my career, I've always kept my elbows down and hit guys lower," Tetrault said. "I've never hit guys in the head. I think it's dirty and should be eliminated."
Tetrault's sentiment is being echoed throughout the sport.
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Following the NHL's lead, the CHL is attempting to make the game safer for its players by closely monitoring checks to the head this season.
Last year, the league concentrated on blindside hits to the head, CHL director of operations Jim Wiley said. This year, all hits to the head are being closely watched.
In fact, Wiley will review every illegal check to the head that is called, even those resulting in two-minute minors.
According the league rulebook, "a hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted."
Tetrault supports the rule.
"It's to protect us," he said. "It's an important rule — we gotta get head shots out of the game."
The penalty for illegal hits has confused some observers during the early season: The penalty is either a minor penalty or a match penalty — nothing in-between.
Prior to the start of the regular season, each CHL franchise was asked to show players and coaches a video on the topic; the video explained the rule and even showed clips of acceptable hits and illegal hits to the head. (The video also covered boarding, another penalty the league is concentrating on this season.)
Thunder forward Alex Bourret was the first player to be punished by the league under the new rule. Bourret, a newcomer to Wichita, laid an open ice hit on Rapid City's Shawn Limpright in the season opener. Wiley happened to be at the game, observing from the Intrust Bank Arena press box.
Bourret, who said after the game that he considered it a "clean hit," was given a match penalty by the officials and later suspended two games by the league. The match penalty was rescinded because the league deemed the hit was "reckless" and not deliberate. Bourret still had to sit out the two games.
Thunder coach Kevin McClelland, a four-time Stanley Cup champion known for his fierce style on the ice, played in a different era. Head shots weren't a major concern.
"When I played, they didn't monitor it," he said. "It was just 'Go take a couple Tylenol.' If you check my pumpkin, it's probably a little messed up."
While McClelland believes the game should be physical, he understands the need for the crackdown. To him, players should avoid head shots out of respect. Tetrault made the same point.
"Guys have to respect each other out on the ice," Tetrault said. "And guys who don't have that respect are gonna get punished, which is a good thing."
While the season is young, Wiley thinks the CHL's efforts to curb the illegal hits are working.
"I have observed what I would categorize as a conscious effort not to hit or push opponents when they are in a vulnerable position," Wiley said. "The illegal hits to the head are fewer than what was anticipated but that may be a result of coaches conveying (the information) to players and officials having a solid grasp of the criteria and its application."
Tetrault has no doubt that the rule will be followed, and the game will be made safer.
"Guys will get the message," he said, "and those hits will be eliminated."
Thunder 6, Tulsa 2
Wichita0 1 5—6 Tulsa2 0 0—2
First Period—1, Tulsa, Lucyk, 4:59 (pp). 2, Tulsa, Erickson (Sprague, Bell), 9:41. Penalties— Sawyer, Wich (roughing), 4:04; Bell, Tulsa (interference), 12:44; Rigtrup, Tulsa (hooking), 15:51; Davis, Wich (holding), 16:58.
Second period—3, Wichita, C.Hemingway (Davis), 12:21. Penalties— Bell, Tulsa (hooking), 2:16; Lizon, Wich (kneeing), 5:11; Bell, Tulsa (high sticking), 12:51.
Third period—4, Wichita, Summers (Martens), :26. 5, Wichita, Davis, 5:17 (sh). 6, Wichita, Martens (Beauregard), 6:53 (pp). 7, Wichita, Summers (Beauregard), 12:55 (pp). 8, Wichita, Robinson, 13:49. Penalties— Summers, Wich (interference), 3:22; Bell, Tulsa (interference), 6:08; Martens, Wich (kneeing), 9:44; Cramer, Tulsa (boarding), 11:34; Raven, Tulsa (tripping), 16:41; Raven, Tulsa (high sticking), 18:32; Martens, Wich (roughing), 19:50.
Shots on Goal—Wichita 16-12-22—50, Tulsa 5-8-3—16.
Power-play opportunities—Wichita 2 of 10, Tulsa 1 of 5.
Goalies—Wichita, Russo (16 shots-14 saves). Tulsa, Keserich (50-44).
Referee—Brent Coulombe. Linesmen—Shawn Morgan, Chip Excell.