Hockey 'warning track' actually makes game more dangerous: Study

Hockey in an inherently injurious sport, but there’s been constant studies and analysis through the years on how to make it less injurious. That’s lead to revolutionary changes to equipment standards, rules and the rink itself.

It was the rink that Thomas Smith targeted back in 2014 with “The Look-Up Line,” a de facto “warning track” that would help prevent catastrophic injuries along the boards on hits. Smith spent 27 months in a wheelchair and faced partial paralysis after being tripped into the boards as a 20-year-old player.

“The Look-Up Line” was a 40-inch orange “warning track” along the boards that would alert puck carriers to where they were on the ice and inform their opponents if the skater was in a “danger zone” for a vicious hit. Smith said it was a way to “warn players to keep their heads up to prevent head and neck injuries.”

Therein lies the problem with “The Look-Up Line” three years later: Researchers at the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary said the players they’ve studied using it are actually looking down at it, making them more vulnerable to injuries and less safe.

From the university and Joan Vickers, PhD, lead researcher on a study published earlier this year:

“Although the players looked down more on the Look-Up Line rink with the orange warning line than on the control rink with traditional white ice, we also found they skated further from the boards on the Look-Up Line rink, a result that may prove to be beneficial or harmful,” says Vickers. “More research is needed to determine the effect of the Look-Up Line in the competitive setting.”

Vickers notes although dropping the head before contact may increase the likelihood of head, neck, and spinal injuries, no attempt was made in the current investigation to determine if the orange warning line increased or reduced injury risk, as the degree of contact was mild to moderate, and did not simulate highly competitive games where contact between the player and the boards is often severe.

Dr. Michael Stuart, chief medical officer for USA Hockey, which funded the study, said “more research is needed to determine if the look-up line improves safety.”

The Look-Up Line has been used in a variety of rinks in Canada and the U.S. for the last three years. Back in 2014, Smith estimated that it was used in “225 rinks in 27 states, with another 30 in Canada.” No word if it made a considerable impact in these leagues, but one assumes it may have – hence USA Hockey’s interest in further analyzing it, perhaps for a potential endorsement and rollout.

Anything to make the game safer. Although, as we said when this story was first reported, it’s hard to imagine the “Look-Up Line” not being used by referees as a guideline for reckless hits. (“He was in the orange!”)

Smith said that it’s not his desire to create a “no-hitting zone,” but c’mon, like referees aren’t going to view it that way.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.