Friday, January 02, 2009

Don Sanderson, 1987-2009, hockey player

Don Sanderson is dead. The 21-year-old defenseman for the Whitby Dunlops died last night from the injuries he received in a hockey fight Dec. 12.
At the heart of hockey's Code of Intimidation there has always been the silence. What happens in hockey stays in hockey. The shroud of silence blanketed those who got hurt and those that did the hurting. It was insurance, a guarantee that the outside world would never disrupt the comfortable culture of intimidation within the sport. The silence meant outsiders could never make a case against on-ice violence." -- Bruce Dowbiggin, The Meaning of Puck
Silence. Throughout the heartland of hockey violence is met with indifference and silence. If you never played the game, you can't understand.

Todd Bertuzzi was misunderstood by those liberal, urban sissies. He paid his price. Steve Moore was a whiny little punk. He should have known better than to hit a star with an open ice check. Clean or not, there had to be a price to pay. It was the code. A code that had been followed in hockey for generations and the same code Don Sanderson was following when he fought Brantford's Corey Fulton last month.

And now he's dead. What happens in hockey stays in hockey.

For years the mantra of the sport's apologists was that no one ever got hurt in a hockey fight. Fighting was to be encouraged. It helped stop players from engaging in truly dangerous practices like slashing and high sticking. Let the boys play.

It was a fluke. It could have happened anywhere, any time. It wasn't the fight that killed him, it was his head hitting the ice. My buddy knew a guy that hit his head off the ice while coaching his boy's novice team. Could happen to anyone.

We can anticipate the arguments. There is no need to tune into Coach's Corner for Sanderson's two-minute eulogy. He was a good Canadian boy. He wouldn't want the fuss. He certainly wouldn't want to be a martyr used by enemies of the game to attack the code. They never played the game.

We'd ask him what he thinks about it. Except he's dead. From a hockey fight.

So instead, silence. The code lives on.

What happens in hockey stays in hockey.

Related:
A Hockey Tragedy (Damien Cox, The Spin)
Previous:
The horror, the horror... frankly, it's beyond our ken (Dec. 15, 2008)

9 comments:

Dennis Prouse said...

Even though we knew this was coming, it doesn't make it any less difficult to hear. My wife and I have to go to a funeral on Monday for someone who died too young, so I can only imagine the pain that Don Sanderson's family and friends are feeling right now.

sager said...

Sorry for your family's loss, Dennis.

It's unimaginable to think of what Sanderson's family and friends must be going through.

The prevailing arguments that seem to make the most sense are that grievous injuries do happen in contact sports. I read a story last week about an 18-year-old college basketball player in Washington state who lost her entire memory after a head-to-head collision with a teammate during a practice drill. Not to be flip on a day like today, but it's not like they're going to have basketball players wearing helmets like the one Natalie Portman's character had to wear in Garden State.

People get slashed by skates in hockey. Football players suffer paralysis. Baseball has frightening incidents involving beanballs, and every so often a pitcher gets drilled by a line drive. They don't talk about banning anything.

You have tolook at what can be done in terms of preventative measures. For instance, football has penalty for hitting a "defenceless receiver" on a pass play. It's a good rule -- we don't want another Darryl Stingley/Jack Tatum incident. Do they go too far sometimes? Yes. The other night in the Texas Bowl, a Western Michigan defender made sure to make contact with his shoulder on a Rice pass receiver. He still got a penalty flag -- and the announcers were taken aback. But it's necessary.

It's an easy way out to say that Sanderson didn't take his helmet off before he fought or that the league had an automatic ejection for fighting.

On the first count, you know (a) others players do take their helmets off before fights, leaving themselves vulnerable and (b) other players don't have a tight chinstrap or wear a helmet that doesn't fit properly because it's more comfortable (can you imagine someone doing that in football)?

On the second, it doesn't matter what the league rules are; it obviously was no deterrent. You grow up in Canada, you're around the idea that dropping the gloves is acceptable in hockey.

Speaking from personal experience, I remember being 14 and as soon as I went from peewee to bantam, suddenly there was an expectation -- fear, in my case, since I'm a liberal sissy -- that there would be fighting.

We've had 100 years to change that and haven't made much headway. Our society is changing. Men don't grow up so much anymore with the idea it's acceptable to hit someone to settle a dispute. You would hope that would filter over to hockey, but it has not.

Anonymous said...

I've listened to buddies for years say "It's part of the game". And how if you're team needs motivation, sending guys out to fight will do the trick. "Change the whole complexion of the game".
Bull. I won't even say ban it. Others can decide that. But the reasons "supporting" fighting are absolute BS. Can't do it in any other sport. Illegal to do it anywhere else (try punching a guy for making a pass at your girlfriend at the bar - the equivalent of fighting a guy on ice for a hit you don't like - and see if you don't get charged). I feel bad for this family. Maybe it really is time to grow up.

Anonymous said...

No offense to the Sanderson family and I don't how ther son played so this is comment on him just hockey in general Maybe hockey needs to look at the number of players playing the game and the role these players have at every level from the feeder leagues to the top There is a huge difference from a star player dropping the gloves with another star player to two guys who see the ice in any given game 3 to 5 minutes and put respect for every player back into the game and get rid of the planned fights between my goon and your goon both players play there roles to make good money but isn't there somebody out there that can take there roster spot that can skate give good clean hits and play the game at a level where they can do more to entertain me with a nice pass or a great goal rather than stand in front let the puck hit them then go in Bring players in that know how to play the game can skate shoot and pass rather than players can skate good enough to grab a guy and beat him Fighting has always been part of the game but in the past for the most part the people who where doing it could also service other purposes on the team

Anonymous said...

To compare Bertuzzi's blind assault from behind on Moore to Sanderson's mano a mano fight is:

a) Ridiculous
b) Reprehensible
c) An admittance that you don't even almost have a clue
d) All of the above

Morgan Keller said...

The reference was to the mentality that there had to be a price to pay, that a physical confrontation was inevitable. The fact is that the NHL and too many of its fans waited with glee for the Canucks to make good on the vows of a "price to pay" that were made to the media. Everyone involved had an expectation that there would be a "pay the price" fight with SOMEONE in the next game with Colorado. How it actually turned out is simply another issue that serves as an example of what can happen in a sport that encourages fighting and in which people tend to salivate over expected violence. They got violence as they expected....and they got a Steve Moore with a broken neck and a ruined career...and a 21 year old player who died far too young, not from hockey, but from fighting on the ice. It isn't rocket science. Hitting human beings in the head or causing them to hit their heads on hard surfaces can cause drastic harm, deprive them of their livelihood, and worst of all, kill them. There is no coming back from dead. What a price for your entertainment, eh?

Ryan Spradlin said...

Dear Author,
I play hockey and have for a long time. You are a moron. No kid should die as the result of some age old code created by a bunch of meatheads. This is a tragedy that was completely avoidable.

I have no issue with violence or hard hitting competitive sports. I love to watching boxing. It is probably my second favorite sport. However, they aren't doing it on ice and the boxer's safety is always the main focus. There is no "code" in boxing that says if a guy doesn't come out and take a severe beating for the crowd's sake that he is a (how did you put it?) "sissy". That is an opinion held by skilless ignorants.

There is a way to play the game right, and with respect. Watch Joe Sakic, Brian Rafalski, Nik Lidstrom, etc... these guys don't have to honor some stupid code by fighting everytime there's a hard hit. They answer on the scoreboard and with their play. Get over it. Someone is dead and no game was ever worth that.

Anonymous said...

Somebody should set up an alternate league of hockey for those with enough intelligence to be able to make it through a game (whether playing or watching) without resorting to neadrathal behavior.

Let the idiots continue to fight in the NHL and watch the audience and sponsorship dwindle.

Anonymous said...

i agree with the author, its just a freak accident, im sorry to the family, but that kid knew what he was getting into when he dropped his mitts..

yeah, watch joe sakic, rafalski, modano.. theyre great players, but in every group of players where you allow hitting, theres gonna be someone pissed off because those sakic's and modano's are more skillful than them.. and those players will take a run at them at one time or another.. and they'll keep doing it cause the refs just going to give them a boarding or a roughing, or a head contact penalty.. theyre not going to stop taking dirty runs at them until someone steps up and gives em a good thumping