Player safety has been at the forefront of any discussion about hockey these days, given the amount and severity of the concussions that are plaguing the game. The NHL has made a point of trying to eliminate dangerous hits to the head with increased suspensions and rule changes. In a high speed contact sport like hockey, sometimes the question arises as to whether incidents uccurring on the ice go beyond the scope of the game and become subject to society's laws, not hockey's. For instance, a criminal investigation was launched in Montreal after Boston Bruin's captain Zdeno Chara landed a particularly vicious hit on Max Pacioretty of the Canadians last season. Although no charges were filed in this case, it appears the action has set a precedent that is being acting upon for the first time in an amateur setting.
Last week, parents of Massachusetts prep league hockey player Tucker Hannon of Duxbury filed a complaint seeking criminal assault and battery charges against an opposing player, Alex Way of Scituate, resulting from a hit (seen here) occurring during the course of a high school game in January. The Hannon's lawyer, Jay Mullen, indicated they believe that the hit was directed to Hannon's head and was made with the intent to injure. “If this (check) was off the rink, on a public way, that is gross, negligent assault and battery,” said Mullen in a statement to the Patriot Ledger. Mike Breen, Scituate's hockey coach, defended the play,saying Way made a “good, clean hit” with no intent to hurt Hannon.
Way did not receive a penalty on the play.
The Plymouth District Court Magistrate will review the claim and decide whether the district attorney's office should pursue the criminal charges against way. Hannon missed the final two weeks of his hockey season and had to be pulled out of school for five weeks as bright lights exacerbated his post-concussion symptoms. Way is a 6'4", 225 pound three-sport athlete who is a member of the National Honors Society and plans to attend highly-selective Williams College in the fall. Hannon, who is only 5'9" and 145 pounds, still has headaches he believes are related to the hit.
Hannon's father stated that he only filed the complaint because Scituate's administrative board, athletic department, and hockey coaches refused multiple requests to have a meeting regarding the hit. He claims he requested that either Way apologize to his son, or be suspended for 2 games and that neither of these two things happened. Scituate's athletic director would not comment on whether Way was suspended or not.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) did not take any action in the matter because a penalty was not called on the play. “With or without a penalty called during the game, a criminal complaint (stemming from a high school play) is really unheard of,” MIAA spokesman Paul Wetzel said.
Way's lawyer, Ron Harnais, said there's no proof that Way's check caused the head injury (after the check, a Duxbury player pushed a Scituate player on top of Hannon) and that players consent to being hit when they play hockey. “It was an intentional hit, but every check is an intentional hit. When players sign up for hockey, they acquiesce to hits."
Somewhat ironically, Way's mother stated her son suffered a concussion during the last football season as the result of an on-field collision, but they never through to take legal action, because they believed those risks are a part of playing a contact sport.
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