The legendary goalie, Vladislav Tretiak, suggested to allhockey.ru that the NHL moves to larger rinks, such as the ones played on in Europe. According to Tretiak, this would reduce the number of concussions in the sport as the playing surface is bigger and there would be not as much chance of high speed/forceful contacts.
Tretiak says that concussions are not a daily concern or an epidemic in the KHL or in Russian hockey as they are in the NHL. I would agree that in any European league the issue of concussion isn’t as big as it is in the KHL. However, it is not to say that they do not happen in the European sized rinks. We’ve seen a few nasty hits that have lead to a concussion in the Swedish leagues.
I have a few issues with Tretiak’s statement and a few things I would like to see before I could back the decision. The KHL hasn’t made a big play of the injuries that players suffer. In-fact the only time I find out about an injured player is if it is a Finnish player and it has been reported in the Finnish media. The KHL is pretty well covered in Finland in that it has games shown with Finnish commentary on the TV, but beyond the Scandinavia, does anyone actually care about the KHL or follow the league with same intensity as they would do their native leagues or the NHL? There are people who do, don’t get me wrong, but I think reporting of injuries and finding out about the types of injuries is pretty difficult due to the language barrier in place and the navigation of some of the team websites is, well, tricky at the best of times.
Then there is the issue of the game itself. The NHL has always prided itself on being the toughest league in the world and it is THE league any hockey playing kid wants to play in. Even if you are just playing street hockey with your friends, the chances are you are playing the dying seconds of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. I haven’t yet met a hockey player who says that the dream for their career would be to hoist the KHL winners’ trophy. And I don’t mean that in the sense that players in the KHL wouldn’t want to win, but that the Stanley Cup is the ultimate prize of hockey.
The few games of KHL hockey I’ve seen and in fact European hockey, the lack of hitting is noticeable. Not saying there isn’t any hits, but the number of hits is not as high as in the NHL. Sure there is more space to create plays and play skilful hockey, but I think European hockey, for the most parts lacks in the physicality. I tweeted about an experience in a Finnish league game saying that there was hardly any hitting.
Whether I have gotten so used to the physicality of the NHL games and I genuinely enjoy watching that, or that the European brand of hockey is more based on skills and creativity rather than the brute physical strength. A case and point of this would be the U-20 world championships. When Finland played against Canada the Finns were unable to meet the Canadians in physicality and rather sprayed snow on the opponent rather than hit them. I don’t mean that as ‘euro players are soft’ but kids playing in European leagues need to learn to finish their hits if they want to play in North America where the physicality is one of the key aspects of the game.
I doubt any fans of the NHL would like to see the league move towards larger rinks. Not only would it change the game and alienate fans, but it would also come at a huge cost to teams and rinks as they would need some serious renovation to accommodate the bigger space, which would ultimately lead to lesser seats in arenas. Where I think Tretiak’s idea in general is good and has the right idea, I don’t see it happening. If anything, I’d personally like to see the European leagues move to a smaller ice size to make the games just slightly more physical.