Andrew Zaccardo and Marc Andre Emond

The 2010-11 hockey season is barely a month old and already we are faced with another case of a potentially crippling injury to a midget player.
Andrew Zaccardo, a 16-year-old forward with the Laval Patriotes, suffered fractured vertebrae after he was checked into the boards by a Montreal Royal player on Sunday at the Martin Brodeur Arena in St. Leonard.
Coincidentally, last year Zaccardo was a midget espoirs teammate of Marc-André Émond, the player who was left partially paralyzed following a check from behind during a game played on the West Island last November.
Émond will likely never play organized hockey again, but through extensive rehabilitation, he is now able to stand on his two feet with the aid of a walker. He recently dropped the ceremonial puck at the home opener of the Lac St. Louis Tigers espoirs in Ile Bizard.
It was encouraging to see Émond back on his feet, but obviously the message about the dangers of hitting from behind is not getting through to young players.
While I don’t believe all these illegal checks are delivered with intent to injure, most of the dangerous hits I’ve seen at local rinks are committed through reckless pursuit of an opponent near the boards.
Both the puck carrier and checker often reach a point of no return when they approach the boards at top speed. A shove from behind is often enough to send a rival player crashing head first into the wall.
Most kids eventually get to their feet. Zaccardo and Émond didn’t.
Who will be the next kid carted from the ice on a stretcher before a greater effort is made to curb hits from behind?
Putting a “Stop” sign patch on the back of jerseys is a welcome gesture, but much more needs to be done.
There appears to be a stringent need to teach players when NOT to check an opposing player, as much as when to deliver a clean body check.
The NHL has grappled with the similar issues, trying to find a way to rid the game of blindside head shots that were leaving players in a crumpled, concussed heap on the ice.
As long as the game continues to be played by bigger, faster and stronger players, the force of impact in contact hockey will continue to leave a trail of injured players.
Body checking, as a tool, is meant to separate the player from the puck – not to separate the player’s head from his body.
Like it or not, physical intimidation has always been part of the game.
But in light of recent events, teaching players to let up on an opponent in certain situations has to become part of the basic training across the land.
We owe it to the kids

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