December 11, 2013
If major junior hockey automatically banished players for fighting, then neither Mason Geertsen nor Austin Carroll would have been involved in a checking-to-the-head incident on Tuesday.
It is facile to think that played into the check, though. Geertsen's headshot on Carroll during the waning moments of the second period in Tuesday's Vancouver Giants-Victoria Royals rivalry tilt takes in a lot of other elements of the debate about how to make hockey safer while retaining its speed, physicality and unpredictability. On the replay, it looked like Carroll took a glance down at the puck in front of him as he moved in on the Giants defence pair of Geertsen and Dalton Thrower. Geertsen, 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, lunged forward for the open-ice check on Carroll, who is the same dimensions at 6-3 and 214 but was hunched over. The result was head contact, a checking-to-the-head major/game misconduct for Geertsen and a match penalty to the Royals' Brandon Magee for tripping Geertsen to start an end-of-period melee.
(Update: Geertsen has been suspended three games.)
Geertsen is likely looking at a suspension if the WHL determines that Carroll's head was the primary point of contact and if there was an injury on the play. The way the play unfolded was somewhat reminiscent of the Tim Billingsley-Shane Prince collision in the Ontario league in 2011, with a defenceman having a learned reaction to check after seeing the attacking player take a look down at the puck. That was perfectly de rigueur for any defenceman until the last five, 10 or 15 years.
The fact the pair had a fight earlier is an unusual hook. It's worth pointing out that, in another league, or in some future where the CHL removes it, both could have been out of the game. That speaks more to the fence-straddle the hockey industry is trying to do with maintaining an entertaining product but being mindful of the growing body of research about brain injuries.
There's no way to know if Geertsen played the man any differently than he would have if it wasn't Austin Carroll.
Vancouver has already been without Edmonton Oilers-drafted forward Jackson Houck due to a three-game headshot suspension. Victoria is also riddled with injuries. Both teams' problems might have been compounded.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to email@example.com.