It’s midway through the second period. Michael Latta, a fourth line center for the Washington Capitals, is sitting on the bench watching his team play against the Buffalo Sabres. All of a sudden, Nicolas Deslauriers makes a poorly placed hit high on Justin Williams. Williams is down and blood is staining the ice due to an even more poorly placed high stick. Williams is taken off the ice and brought back to the dressing room. The referees don’t make a call.
The next shift out, Latta switches positions with Brooks Laich for the face-off. Immediately after the whistle blows, the gloves and sticks are flying. After the fight, Latta gets taken off the ice with an injured arm while Deslauriers is gloating over his apparent win.
The game eventually ended with Williams returning and the Caps scoring another goal. The Capitals won with a final score of 2-0 and Braden Holtby getting the shut out.
This is the single most textbook example of why hockey players fight. Some guy takes a run at one of your guys, and you beat him up to protect your teammates honor and get back at the guy who hurt him.
Deslauriers’ Dangerous Hit
Don’t get me wrong, Latta’s desperate need to fight Deslauriers is completely understandable. Both his team and Barry Trotz, his coach, approved of his decision to fight. It was a dirty hit, made more dangerous by Williams’ and Deslauriers’ proximity to the boards, and the continuation of play.
Deslauriers executed the check poorly at best; both his hands were high, his left hand came up and looked as if it was yanking on Williams’ shoulder which sent him spiraling down into the ice. When Williams was dragged down, you can see the back of his head making contact with the boards. The incident manages to get worse since Deslauriers stick swung up and caught Williams in the face. The scuffle that ensued was broken up fast, and the refs didn’t make a call which caused Latta to feel like he had to do something.
Looking at player safety, this dangerous play should have at least warranted a major penalty to Deslauriers due to the amount of head contact. Referees can’t be expected to see everything all the time, but with a dirty check like this, the referees cannot miss this call. In addition to giving other players the ‘okay’ to make hits like this, not making the call forces players to ‘police the game themselves.’
Latta’s Risky Fight
The dangers associated with the hit are equally as serious as those associated with the ensuing fight. Though similar in height and weight, Deslauriers took the upper hand. Not only did Latta end up injuring his arm during the fight, but Deslauriers got at least seven solid punches to Latta’s head. Despite the fact that Latta was able to knock Deslaruriers’ helmet off, it was clear Latta received the majority of the punches.
Sure all the punches were made into his helmet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t shaking up his head. In a fist fight, there’s only so much protection the helmet can provide. The helmet primarily protects the skull from fractures and the outer layers of tissue from damage. The brain is in cerebrospinal fluid which allows it to shift around within the skull. Concussions are due to acceleration and deceleration of the brain; basically how hard the brain runs into the inner walls of the skull.
Every punch taken that pushes the head back and forth could threaten a concussion. Some of the punches Latta took could have tossed his brain around. Since concussions symptoms may take 24 hours or longer to show, it is difficult to really known directly after the game whether or not there is a concussion. Additionally, Latta is now day-to-day with an arm injury.
A Call for Change
After looking at this particular fight it’s easy to see that the NHL has a lot of work to do as far as play safety is concerned; both player mentality and game regulations need to be reevaluated. Players and coaches need to stop condoning behavior that puts players at unnecessary risk, and referees cannot allow players to get away with poorly executed hits that threaten a player’s safety.
I’m not delusional enough to think that calling more penalties will always prevent fights, but calling these dirty hits is the first step in changing the mindset of players to a point where they don’t feel the need regulate the games themselves.