AUS hockey's headshot problem

Atlantic University Sport has increased penalties for headshots and hits from behind, but players aren't responding.


Referees have to enforce new penalty standards in AUS men's hockey. (Photo courtesy of Ric Lafontaine via Flickr)

Referees have to enforce new penalty standards in AUS men's hockey. (Photo courtesy of Ric Lafontaine via Flickr)

On the night of Jan. 6, Dalhousie's Shea Kewin ran the head of St. Thomas Tommies' forward Chris Morehouse into the glass. Morehouse was prone on the ice for several minutes and Kewin was given a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct.

"A guy like Chris expects that," said Tommies head coach Troy Ryan. "He's an in-your-face guy. We're not too stressed about it."

Atlantic University Sport, though, wants that kind of hit dealt with severely.

"We want to put our student athletes in a position to be successful as students first and foremost. We don't want to put our students in danger," said AUS hockey convenor John Ryan (no relation to Troy).

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Chris Van Laren was suspended eight games for his hit to Universite de Moncton's Cristian Gaudet on Nov. 5. Video by: Universite de Moncton
Chris Van Laren was suspended eight games for his hit to Universite de Moncton's Cristian Gaudet on Nov. 5. Video by: Universite de Moncton

AUS committee looking at concussions

AUS has established a new committee to look specifically at concussion problems in all university sports. According to John Ryan, there have also been problems in football. The committee was formed in the 2010-11 season.

The committee includes Sonja McVey, a concussion expert at Dalhousie University.

The committee has been developing a standard test to apply for concussion-checks across university sports.

Ryan admits that the league hasn't done a great job of publicizing their work. Suspension information in AUS isn't formally tracked and concussion problems are hard to detect. Fans of AUS hockey have no way of telling if a player is injured or suspended for any given game.


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Penalties called for dangerous hits in AUS men's hockey, by school. Roughly one in every three AUS games as of Jan. 7 featured a dangerous hit. 46% of games had at least one misconduct penalty and there were 103 total misconducts over 132 games as of Jan. 7.

A couple of years ago he started to get calls from university presidents about the concussion problems in AUS. He heard stories of male hockey players who couldn't be in a bright area - like a classroom - for eight to 12 weeks after a hit.

Kewin was automatically suspended one game for his hit. Prior to the 2011-12 season, AUS only gave out automatic suspensions for hits from behind.

Kewin sat out Dal's Jan. 7 game against the Université de Moncton, but if he receives another minor penalty for a headshot, he'll be suspended again - three minor penalties for contact to the head now equal a one-game suspension. Kewin already has two, one on Nov. 11, 2011 against the University of New Brunswick and another on Oct. 15, 2011 against Moncton, which also got him a 10-minute misconduct penalty.

The league has already suspended several players this year for dangerous hits:

  • St. Francis Xavier star Bryce Swan was automatically suspended one game for a high open-ice hit on St. Thomas' Mike Reich on Nov. 12, 2011. (Go to 2:07:45 in the video to view the hit.)
  • St. Thomas player Chris Van Laren was suspended eight games for a hit to the head against Moncton on Nov. 5, 2011.
  • St. FX also had Mark Louis suspended three games for a hit on Nov. 30, 2011 against Saint Mary's.
  • Dalhousie's Benoit Gervais was automatically suspended one game for a hit from behind Oct. 28 against UPEI.

Twenty-one contact-to-the-head penalties and 25 checking-from-behind penalties had been called in AUS this year as of Jan. 11. That's roughly one dangerous hit every three games. Expanded to cover all penalties 10 minutes and longer, that stat comes to almost one in every two games.

Penalty numbers are about the same as last year, according to John Ryan. "Is the message getting through? Maybe not." Referees have been instructed to call more contact-to-the-head penalties.

"Hopefully... coaches will see that. It's a scary situation. Hopefully by second term it will get better, and by next year it will get even better."

The Van Laren suspension is the longest AUS has set so far this year. John Ryan calls it a "vicious open-ice hit and we thought it deserved a lengthy suspension."

In order for the league to consider extending a suspension beyond the automatic penalty, the opponent has to send the video in - there is subjectivity. John Ryan's position is volunteer and he can't watch every game.

John Ryan opened the door to reducing the number of minor penalties required for a suspension to two if players don't pick up on the new standard.

"We want to provide a product that is safe and entertaining," said John Ryan.


Video added at 12 p.m., Jan. 12, 2011.

Broken link on Bryce Swan hit video corrected at 2 p.m., Jan. 12, 2011.


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