Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Campus Corner: Thoughts from the Carr-Harris Cup

I watched a great match over at RMC's Constantine Arena tonight between the Gaels and the Paladins. As previously mentioned, RMC's arena is far too small for these sorts of games: fans were crammed into the rink in sardine-esque fashion, including those of us from the Journal: the press box was overflowing (Mike and I, Brock Harrison from the Whig-Standard and the CFRC guys broadcasting the game were all forced into regular seats). As this was the last regular-season game between Queen's and RMC, the Carr-Harris Cup (named after a prominent local family who had members play for both teams) was up for grabs, which meant even more people wanted to come to the game. I don't think the arena could have taken any more, though: all the seats were long gone by puck drop, and students lined the standing-room area around the glass as well.

On the plus side, there was a great crowd and atmosphere: both the Queen's and RMC bands were out in force, along with students from both schools. Also, we had five Journal editors at the game, which is surely some sort of record: three of us were just there as fans though. Mike will have the full story in Friday's paper, so check out that for all the details. Queen's pulled off a rather nice 4-2 win to take this year's edition of the Cup. Here's a few of my thoughts on the game.

1. It was downright disturbing watching RMC's Luke Pierce get concussed off a Pat Doyle hit. I didn't see the hit well enough to definitively declare if it was clean or not (Brock and Mike both said it was), but the results were certainly ugly. Pierce went flying into the boards with a solid thunk, and then lay unmoving on the ice for about eight minutes. After that time, the trainer and several RMC players got him up and carried him off, leaving some blood behind. Obviously, my work this year has broadened my knowledge of concussions and influenced my views on how dangerous they are, however, I would have classified the Pierce incident in the "sickening" category without any prior knowledge. It's tragically ironic that this happened on the same day as CBC's the fifth estate aired a documentary suggesting that wrestler Chris Benoit's murder-suicide may have been partly caused by the damage repeated concussions did to his brain.

2. Among the other bothersome parts of the Pierce situation: there didn't seem to be a stretcher available, so teammates carried him off while the RMC trainer stabilized his head. That's a seriously bad move in head/neck injury cases, as it can cause further damage. This definitely should have been handled better.

3. Final weird thing from the Pierce case: he got stiched up in the dressing room, and returned to the ice in obvious pain partway through the second period. He didn't play a shift after that, and had to be helped to the dressing room after the second, but the real question is why he was allowed to return. I can understand why he'd want to watch the rest of the game, as it was his last game for the Paladins, but he never should have been allowed to. As Richard Rothenberg (men's hockey student trainer) pointed out in my article, there's a good reason to have a regimented system to deal with concussions or suspected concussions: it does a lot to prevent further injury. If it wasn't clear that Pierce had a concussion, I'd be okay with him watching the game: however, this guy was motionless for eight minutes! For his own good, he should have been shipped straight to the hospital, not the dressing room.
(Aside: Dave Ross, Queen's co-ordinator of athletic therapy services was at the game: he probably wasn't too thrilled with the way this was dealt with, given his worries about concussions and their potential to cause internal bleeding)

4. Ryan Gibb is an amazing goalie, but he needs to improve his puckhandling skills. There were several times when an error on his part caused problems for the Gaels, and one directly resulted in an RMC goal (another goal off a Gibb giveaway was called off for goaltender interference). Gibb did make 28 mostly impressive saves (according to the OUA, which hasn't always been too reliable), and had a strong game in the net: he just needs to get better when he ventures outside the crease (much as Roberto Luongo does), or else stay at home more.

5. The Gaels can put together some impressive offence. Jon Lawrance had two goals, including a nice breakaway deke (not sure if it's TSN-quality, though) after Jeff Ovens was sent sprawling in the neutral zone, while Pat McDonough added one off a faceoff and Ovens added another off a lovely through-the-legs pass from Jon Asselstine. They didn't rack up the shots (the OUA gives them 19, which may be generous), but they made the ones they had count.

6. RMC, on the other hand, won the physical battle. Queen's made few meaningful checks, apart from Doyle on Pierce, a couple of Alberta-style crunches by Grant Horvath and a few here and there from T.J. Sutter. RMC pounded Queen's for a good bit of the game, and even looked like they might swing momentum to their side with a string of solid hits early in the third period. The Gaels looked a bit rattled, but they ultimately hung on.

7. Speaking of McDonough's goal: it wouldn't have happened if today's goalies didn't feel a compulsive need to freeze the puck. Ryan Gibb fired the puck the length of the ice, and it went straight to RMC goaltender Matt Hartney. With no one from Queen's closer than the blue line, Hartney froze the puck, Jeff Ovens won the draw, and the Gaels got the winning marker. I wish I could lambast Hartney more thoroughly for this, but he probably was just following what most of today's goalies seem to be taught, freeze the puck at all costs. Not only does this kill the pace and flow of a game, it also leads to the chance of a faceoff goal as happened tonight. Defensive-zone faceoffs should only be conceded when absolutely necessary, in my opinion.

8. Lastly, T.J. Sutter showed he's a worthy bearer of the name, even if he isn't actually related to the famous clan. He got badly high-sticked in the third, and a penalty was immediately called on RMC. As he was skating to the Queen's bench, the RMC bench started heckling him, with one forward a particular culprit. Sutter paused in front of the RMC bench, did a Palmeiroian finger-jab, and called out his critic in a most effective manner, which quickly shut him up. That was some impressive courage displayed in hostile territory. He had a solid all-around game, too, and showed why he's my favorite player on the Queen's team: he works ridiculously hard on every shift, finishes every check and is solid defensively. He doesn't score a lot, but guys like him (c.f. Sami Pahlsson or a modern Trevor Linden) are still a valuable ingredient on any team.

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