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NHL getting tougher on hard hits?

January 27, 2013
By John Mehno ( , The Altoona Mirror

PITTSBURGH - There are a lot of odd things about the National Hockey League. This is just one of them.

The Penguins played the Toronto Maple Leafs the other night, and winger Chris Kunitz was called twice for boarding. The Penguins thought the calls were marginal, and Kunitz was baffled by getting penalties for what he thought were good hits.

It's too early to tell whether this represents a league-wide crackdown or was just the interpretation of one pair of referees.

Like the NFL, the NHL has been addressing player safety. They reconfigured rinks to round off glass that was a hazard to players. They put in a detailed system for assessing possible concussions.

Those are certainly positive steps. But this is also a league that allows players to clinch and throw punches at each other's heads. It happened twice in the Penguins' first three games. Tanner Glass vs. Arron Asham started two seconds into the game against the New York Rangers, and a Deryk Engelland-Colton Orr rematch came in the first period of the home opener against Toronto.

Both fights were prolonged and intense. Engelland came away with a nasty welt under his right eye.

Engelland and Orr went for more than a minute, which is an eternity in hockey fights. The crowd roared. The other players stood and tapped their sticks against the boards in appreciation.

Fighting will never completely go away because the NHL knows its fans love it. So remember, player safety is a priority in the NHL - with the exception of crowd-pleasing bare-knuckled punches thrown at players' faces.

Stan the Man

Stan Musial had a .340 career average in 1,806 plate appearances against the Pirates. OK, a Hall of Fame hitter feasted on some of those bad Pirates teams in the 1950s.

But Musial hit at least .317 against every opponent in his career, so it's not like he picked his spots.

Beyond what he did on the field, there was the exemplary way Musial conducted himself. A story posted on an autograph collecting website is typical.

The poster recalled a childhood visit to the Hall of Fame a few days before the induction ceremony. His family bought several new baseballs, and the young boy was carrying a baseball through the hotel lobby.

An employee approached and said guests weren't allowed to solicit autographs on hotel property. An older man then approached the family and asked the boy, "Can I sign your baseball?"

The man talked to the boy, asking if he played Little League and what position he played. The boy had no idea who the friendly man was, but his father was smiling because he recognized Stan Musial.

Stan the Man, indeed.

Mehno can be reached at

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