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Doctors say NHL owners too complacent when it comes to violence in the game

Montreal Canadiens' Max Pacioretty is hit by Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara on March 8, 2011 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

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Montreal Canadiens' Max Pacioretty is hit by Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara on March 8, 2011 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

CALGARY - Canada's physicians have dropped the gloves with NHL owners saying the league is too accepting of hockey violence.

Two-thirds of delegates at a Canadian Medical Association meeting in Calgary Wednesday voted to "condemn the complacency of the NHL in regards to violence in hockey."

The motion was brought forward by Dr. Pierre Harvey, a physician from Riviere-du-Loup, Que.

He said he was motivated by a devastating 2011 hit on Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty that sent the player to hospital with a concussion and a fractured neck.

"I wanted my motion to be specific to the NHL because that's where it happens," said Harvey.

"If the NHL stops doing that or makes a significant move to reduce those concussion rates, I'm sure the whole hockey industry and minor league hockey will follow. We deplore it because it has a significant impact on our players health and those players are major role models for teenagers and kids," he said.

"They learn that's the way we play hockey and I think it's not acceptable to hit the head of someone."

Harvey acknowledges that hockey is a rough game, but said more can be done to reduce blows to the head and hits from behind.

Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara was not suspended for the hit that sent Pacioretty head-first into the glass between the benches.

The league ruled the hit a "hockey play" and said if found no evidence that Chara delivered the check in any manner that could be deemed dangerous.

"When I saw that picture I thought, well, he could have been dead. He was unconscious on the ice and I thought well naturally they will punish this guy," Harvey said, adding that Chara should have been suspended for 50 to 80 games.

"The owners have a financial interest in tolerating and promoting violence and we need to be a counterweight," he said.

The league changed its rules in the 2010-11 season to outlaw bodychecks aimed at the head and checking from a player's blind side.

But research released last month suggested the rule changes, which were designed to cut down on the number of concussions, haven't made a difference.

The data showed that there was no statistical significance in the incidence of concussions in the NHL in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons compared to the 2009-10 season.

The analysis also showed that the type of hits outlawed by the NHL rule weren't actually the major cause of concussions.

The incoming president of the Canadian Medical Association acknowledges it's a thorny issue.

"Any time you touch hockey in Canada you better watch every word you say because you're going to get a lot of people really upset," said Dr. Louis Francescutti.

"I love hockey. I've got a hockey rink in my backyard, but there are certain rules when you get on the Francescutti rink and one of them is you don't hit the other opponent. The kids seem to have a lot more fun playing hockey as opposed to: can the big guy cream the little guy against the boards."

It's not the first time the medical association has taken a stand against a popular sport.

Delegates in 2010 voted in favour of a ban on mixed martial arts prize fighting matches. They called the sport "savage and brutal" with the aim to completely disable an opponent.

The association took a similar stand on boxing more than a decade ago.

The doctors also passed a motion calling on provinces to restrict the sale of energy drinks to children and adolescents, suggesting drinks like "Red Bull" should be subject to the same drinking age as alcohol.

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