Kid gloves shouldn’t come off
There are reasons why the Bruins selected wide-shouldered Tyler Randell in the sixth round of the 2009 NHL draft. One of them was how well Randell performed with the gloves off his hands. Randell, while playing for Kitchener of the OHL, fought six times that year. The following season, Randell dropped the gloves 10 times. Last season, the 6-foot-1-inch, 195-pounder engaged in 21 fights, including one against fellow Bruins prospect Anthony Camara.
“It definitely took a while to get comfortable, pick up the techniques, and learn how to do it,’’ said Randell (20-12-32, 160 penalty minutes in 2010-11). “But I feel like this year went pretty well with fighting, getting the team going, and protecting my teammates, but also putting the puck in the net.’’
As an OHL rookie in 2007, Randell fought only twice. He was 16 years old, a risky age for boys to be suffering blows to the head.
According to Dr. Robert Cantu, the co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, younger brains are not as myelinated, meaning they have less insulation than brains of adults. Also, boys’ necks are weaker than those of adults. Their heads are disproportionately large for their bodies.
“That sets up a younger person to have injuries to the brain that are greater than those sustained at a later age from the same force,’’ Cantu said. “It takes more force later on to produce the same injury.
“It’s important not to have a head injury at any age. It’s particularly important not to have it at a young age. Fighting is certainly to be discouraged, especially at young ages, for those reasons.’’
Nobody forced Randell, or countless other NHL hopefuls, to fight. At the other end, nobody is telling Shawn Thornton that he must drop his gloves. But it’s understood, for juniors as well as NHLers, that fighting is expected from certain players.
It’s one of hockey’s prickliest issues. Fans attend games and watch them on TV in anticipation of scraps. Fighting helps to keep players like Thornton employed, which encourages youngsters like Randell to do the same.
The consequences of fighting, however, may ultimately put it into question. Longtime enforcer Bob Probert, who died of a heart attack last year, was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It is not possible to determine how Probert’s fighting contributed to his CTE.
There is no reason to suggest that Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien, both known for fighting, died this offseason because of the nature of their duties. But there is little doubt that the trauma of fighting can affect a player’s physical and mental health.
Last year, Toronto heavyweight Colton Orr was limited to 46 games because of a concussion sustained during a fight with Anaheim’s George Parros.
If researchers can determine whether players subjected to bout-related concussions at early ages are at greater risk, fighting could come under more scrutiny. There is not enough research to prove that a hockey player who has been fighting and absorbing head shots since his teenage years will be more greatly affected later in life. However, Cantu points to brains of three youngsters (17, 18, and 21) at the BU center that had early-onset CTE.
“Presumably, those people were asymptomatic when they died,’’ Cantu said. “Presumably, had they lived into adulthood, the early-onset CTE would have progressed. At some point in life, they would have been symptomatic.
“For those with CTE early in life that can cause symptoms later in life, we have no idea of the prevalence of that right now. It’s beginning to be studied.’’
Perhaps an obvious solution would be eliminating fighting from all levels of hockey. But that would alter the game and diminish hockey’s core audience.
Another fix would be to ban fighting in juniors, when boys are still in the at-risk teenage years. Cantu notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics has called for a ban on boxing for those younger than 16.
“Most important is understanding that no head trauma is good head trauma,’’ Cantu said. “Avoid all head trauma that you can avoid. If that means practicing less, practice less. Don’t go out seeking fights. It’s not good to get hit in the head.
“Secondly, if you’re going to play a sport that’s at high risk for head injury like the collision sports - hockey, football, lacrosse - you better have a passion for that sport. Or I would recommend you not play it.’’
In less than three weeks, Randell will participate in his third NHL camp. He might engage in a fight or two. And when he (most likely) is assigned to Providence, he will certainly fight some more.
Asked if he worries about fighting’s long-term consequences, Randell said, “I don’t really think about it. I just know it’s my job if I want to get into professional hockey. You just go in and fight.
“You don’t want to just stick your face in there. You obviously want to protect yourself. You want to block as many as you can. But obviously you’re going to take some punches. The less you take, the better.’’
But on July 13, 2009, the Bruins signed him to a one-year contract, believing the native of New Brighton, Minn., would be ready to turn pro.
The Army had other plans. McKelvie was not cleared to start his hockey career. For two years, McKelvie has been fulfilling his Army requirements while putting hockey on standby.
Now, McKelvie will try again. On July 14, he signed a one-year contract, and next month, he will report to training camp, his first as a pro.
“We thought we had a good chance of getting him relieved from his duties,’’ said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “That’s why we signed him [in 2009]. It turned out he wasn’t able to do it.’’
In 2008-09, as captain of his Army club, McKelvie had 5 goals and 12 assists in 33 games. He also won the fastest skater competition during the 2009 Frozen Four.
Now, McKelvie is 26 and has had two critical development years scrubbed from his career. There’s no way to project how that gap will affect his performance until he competes against other players in camp.
“It will be a challenge for him,’’ Chiarelli acknowledged. “He’s in real terrific shape. He’s a real focused kid. He’s got that going for him. He’s got terrific legs. He can really skate.
“But it will be a challenge. He’s missed all the little nuances in the game. But what we presented to the Army was that he’ll be able to uphold the principles of the military, promote it, and be a real good example.’’
Labors of love At this time last year, Jack Parker was recovering from heart surgery. Compared with that, scouting about 70 local 15- and 16-year-olds at Marlborough’s New England Sports Center last Thursday and speaking at a College Hockey Inc. summit were welcome diversions. “Lot better than I was doing last summer,’’ said the Boston University coach. About the only thing Parker wasn’t pleased about was pulling Arts & Letters, his treasured sailboat, out of the water because of Hurricane Irene.
Double dipping Old friend Petteri Nokelainen is proving that you can occupy two cap spots for the same employer. Nokelainen was wheeled by the Bruins to Anaheim for Steve Montador in 2009, then later dealt to the Coyotes, who bought him out at the conclusion of 2009-10. Nokelainen spent last year in his native Finland, and this past spring, his old employer came calling again. On May 20, the ex-Bruin signed a one-year, $550,000 contract with the Coyotes. “The plan was to play a year in Finland, and then come back,’’ said Bill Zito, Nokelainen’s agent, in an e-mail. “Who knew it would be the same team?’’ Last year, Nokelainen recorded 11 goals and 16 assists (along with a team-high 116 penalty minutes) for Jokerit Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League. What makes his situation unusual is that Phoenix will be carrying his buyout number ($158,334, according to capgeek.com) along with his $550,000 salary on its 2011-12 books. Nokelainen is the only player in the NHL currently on the roster of a team that bought him out.
Loose pucks Zito reports that ex-Canadien James Wisniewski had a banner day playing golf at St. Andrews this summer. After triple bogeying the first hole, Wisniewski shot par for the remaining 17 on the Old Course for a 75. Not a bad offseason accomplishment for Wisniewski, but a distant second to scoring a six-year, $33 million payday from Columbus . . . Best wishes to ex-Bruin Dave Scatchard, who announced his retirement Monday because of postconcussion syndrome. In 2005-06, Scatchard was one of the spare parts - others included Brian Leetch, Alexei Zhamnov, and Brad Isbister - the Bruins signed coming out of the lockout. Scatchard appeared in 16 games before he was traded to Phoenix for David Tanabe. Scatchard was always one of the friendlier faces in the dressing room. Now, he’s dealing with some scary PCS issues that are altering his life off the ice. “Even today I have trouble pushing my kids on a swing set,’’ Scatchard told the Toronto Star. “Just the motion makes me really nauseous.’’ . . . Bruins center Patrice Bergeron has always preferred a prompt return to summer skating. But because of the compressed schedule, Bergeron eased off the gas. “Maintain more than gain,’’ Bergeron said. “It’s about making sure you’re ready, but getting rest as well. It’s hard to do at the same time. It’s been a different summer. But you can’t change it for anything in the world.’’ . . . In three days, more than 31 years after towing a 2-year-old from Japan to Boston, my parents will be naturalized. (They might have had second thoughts about such a journey had they correctly projected their son’s nondescript writing career.) On Wednesday, Takao and Kyoko Shinzawa will become American citizens at TD Garden, where I do most of my work. To that, I proudly say, drop the puck.