By Steve Silverman
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Disaster was averted when Patrick Kaleta checked Brad Richards headfirst into the boards last Sunday.
Richards was on the ice at a very awkward angle with his neck bent in a direction that looked gruesome. Richards was able to get up and he should be back in the lineup shortly.
Disaster was not averted in Switzerland, however, when player Ronny Keller was left paralyzed by a hit to the boards on March 5 by an opponent named Stefan Schnyder.
The only difference between the two hits was that Schnyder raced a longer distance to hit Keller and he appeared to deliver more force than Kaleta brought in his check of Richards.
But the NHL should not be feeling very good about itself just because Richards got up after the hit by the Buffalo goon. It was simply a matter of physics and luck that Richards was not left paralyzed, just like Keller.
The Kaleta suspension needs to be revisited. This may be the United States, where the concept of double jeopardy applies in the courtroom, but it does not necessarily apply in the NHL.
Kaleta could have paralyzed or killed Richards with his hit. He has been guilty of horrible behavior on the ice before and this marks his third suspension by the NHL.
A five-game suspension for Kaleta is a joke.
Raffi Torres of the Phoenix Coyotes was suspended 25 games (later reduced to 21 games) by the NHL for his brutal hit on Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks in last spring's playoffs.
If the NHL wants to take mayhem out of its games, it must severely punish all guilty parties. If you hit-check a player into the boards from behind, you must be hit with a severe punishment.
25 games is just the jumping-off point. If you want to save players' lives or make sure they can walk away from the game when they decide to retire, it's time to suspend them for a year for such hits or perhaps even ban them for life.
I had never heard of Schnyder or Keller before seeing the brutal check, and I would not be surprised if Schnyder is regretful about the incident. He may have had a clean record prior to the hit.
It doesn't matter. He should never be allowed to play organized hockey again at any level.
Police are investigating the incident, and that's just what should happen.
The NHL has reacted quickly to protect players from blindside hits and head shots. However, there are still dunderheads like Kaleta who still don't get the message.
Kaleta was disturbed about his hit on Richards. He was upset that he put his team in the position of having to defend a five-minute power play.
"I'm just sorry for the position I put the team in, trying to kill that penalty," Kaleta told the Buffalo News. "I feel for that, for putting the penalty killers out there and them getting the two goals. It makes me feel like a bag of garbage after seeing that."
Kaleta is right. He is a bag of garbage. Not for leaving his team shorthanded, but for nearly causing a tragedy on the ice.
It is distasteful, but watch the video in the link above a couple of times. Watch how Keller gets catapulted into the boards by the ferocity and viciousness of the hit.
It only takes one hit like that to ruin a person's life and damage the sport in a brutal manner.
Lives are at stake and so is the reputation of the National Hockey League.
Is hockey too brutal these days? If so, what needs to be done to fix the game? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below...
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