When those of us who are of the instant gratification generation are confronted with people who lived the primes of their adult lives before we were born...fossils, if you will...we tend to tune them out. Sure, everything was better-built, stronger, more classy than anything we have now, grandpa, we think.
What we forget as we're tuning out gramps is, sometimes, he's right. Sometimes the wisdom he learned the hard way before we were born still applies now. I remembered that today, when I talked with Alex Faulkner.
Alex is the first Newfoundlander to have played in the NHL. He skated with Howe and Sawchuk in the '60s, although he just missed the Cup-winning years in Detroit. He's an unassuming person and a very classy gentleman. Our conversation today was about head injuries in the game he calls "his life."
Faulkner thinks its great that the game is faster and the doctors much more conscientious about diagnosing concussions, but he thinks there are things that need to happen to make the game he loves better for the men who play it.
First, he says, the equipment needs to be made softer, like it was in the old days. The purpose of padding is to protect the wearer, not to turn him into a tank. He thinks the rock-hard shoulder and elbow pads players wear are too dangerous.
Second, the league has to think about reducing some of that great speed, either by lengthening shifts, or by reducing rosters. Excessive speed, combined with rules prohibiting interference, means players are getting hit harder, at higher velocities, and that hurts heads.
Third, Faulkner thinks there needs to be a no-touch icing rule. Sure, he says, the occasional race for the puck on a delayed icing is fun to watch, but most often, it just opens the defenceman to a shot from behind as he rushes to retrieve the iced puck.
Fourth, Faulkner says he truly believes that an offender...a guy like Bertuzzi or Cooke...who hurts an opponent with a reckless hit to the head, should be suspended for the duration of the injured player's absence. He thinks the NHL's lack of muscle on the discipline front is sending a tacit messasge that nobody's really serious about stopping the kinds of play that ends careers.
And finally, he says players have to be taught to hit correctly. He says the elbows and forearms that go up high on bodychecks now didn't used to be the way hits were carried out. A huge bodycheck should be legal (he despises retaliation on a clean check), but it shouldn't involve any part of the hitter contacting the target's head.
These are simple solutions, presented by a guy who's been there. They're the kind of answers that will stop, or at least slow down, the concussion epidemic, which is ending the hockey lives of really good players like Marc Savard and Paul Kariya, and is threatening the careers of generational players like Sidney Crosby.
Perhaps, if bottom-line dwellers like Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman weren't too busy tuning Grandpa out, they'd recognize that. Something has to give, because players' heads are fragile and they're getting broken much, much too often.