Dave Sales has a tough job being the BCHL’s version of Colin Campbell, the NHL’s disciplinarian.
Sales, the executive director of the BCHL, hands out discipline under the guidelines created by Hockey Canada and its Junior A Supplement.
Hockey Canada has five junior A leagues, including the BCHL, work with them on the Junior A Supplement aimed to reduce head shots, dangerous hits, checking from behind and fighting.
The rules in the Junior A Supplement the leagues are following states: “If a player raises his stick, hands, forearm or elbow to hit an opponent in the head area, or deliberately drives his stick, forearm, elbow or gloved hand into the player’s head in any manner, it shall be called a Blow to the Head and shall receive a minor and 10 minute misconduct, or a major and game misconduct, or match penalty.”
Sales, who was a governor, general manager and director of hockey operations for the Powell River Kings for four seasons prior to joining the league office, explained why no suspensions were handed out to Victoria Grizzlies players who took out Garrett Milan and Mark MacMillan with hits resulting in concussions.
“The player clearly wasn’t targeting or hitting high,” he said of the hit on Milan. “He was finishing his check.”
OK. And MacMillan’s?
Sales agreed there should have been a call when the Montreal Canadiens draft pick was hit, however, it wouldn’t have been a five minute major.
Currently, players are given a three-for-one special on minor penalties for hits to the head. What this means is players can receive three minor penalties of that kind before they are suspended for two games. They receive a two-game suspension for each minor following.
Hockey followers are already upset with the rule to curb fighting, but the Junior A Supplement drops the ball when it comes to headshots. There’s no reason to give players three head shot penalties before they are forced to sit and watch from the stands.
While Sales stated that the BCHL wants to protect its players without removing hitting from the game, he did agree there shouldn’t be freebees awarded.
“I think we’re pretty early in the process with trying to make that change,” said Sales, who added they need to know what area players are targeting.
Things improve as automatic minimum two- and three-game suspensions are given for major and match penalties.
This season, the BCHL has issued 16 suspensions for blows-to-the-head, one of them going to Vees forward Myles McCauley, who watched from the stands for two games. Cowichan Valley’s Dillon Houghton received a two-game suspension for blow-to-the-head penalties accumulated under the Junior A Supplement. The sad thing is that Sales expected the number of head shots to increase this season because they broadened what defined such a blow. Hockey Canada and the five leagues will have to re-evaluate that if they want the game to be safer for players. While anyone is able to view the suspensions on the BCHL’s site, it’s trickier to find them for last season it’s not clear which of those were for headshots.
Speaking to Milan, who sported a shiner and a small number of stitches near his left eye at the time, he said he wasn’t surprised a suspension had not been given, but he also didn’t go into a Tasmanian devil-type tantrum on how the league isn’t looking after players.
“I have faith in the league. I don’t think it’s a big deal,” said Milan, who buzzes around the rink with his five-foot-eight, 155-pound frame. “I think it’s fine right now.”
MacMillan was a bit surprised a suspension wasn’t given but, because it’s not in his control, he doesn’t worry about it.
“Are we changing the world over night, No,” said Sales. “From an outsider looking in, which I really am, when I look at these plays I’m really hoping that really shortly we’re going to see players not wanting to take a risk to get suspended two games by raising their elbows or hitting high. It’s the worst thing that we have in the game right now.”