Toews Hit Shows Why NHL Bench Doors Should Stay Closed

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Last night during the second period of the Blackhawks-Blues game, a check by Blues forward Jaden Schwartz sent Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews into the boards, right in front of the Blues bench. When Toews hit the boards, the door to the Blues bench opened and Toews’ knee hit the bottom of the door opening. Toews was slow to skate back to the Blackhawks’ bench, and went into the locker room shortly after. Blackhawk fans held their collective breath before Toews eventually came back to the bench and finally back into the game.

Although Toews is fine, the situation could have been avoided if the door hadn’t been opened a few seconds earlier and was properly latched.

The incident is not dissimilar to that which happened to Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta back in November. During a game against the Minnesota Wild, Maatta was checked into an open bench door by Wild forward Nino Niederreiter and suffered an injury that sidelined him for four weeks.

There should be serious consideration by the league to make it illegal to open the door of a bench during play. It has been an on-going talking point for a while now and could be a major topic of conversation at this month’s NHL general managers meeting in Boca Raton. Opening a door during play raises the possibility of injury for a player being checked near those doors.

We’ve seen evidence that the league is capable of fixing a problem like this. Back in March 2011, Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara checked Montreal Canadians forward Max Pacioretty into an upright stanchion at the end of the Bruins’ bench. Pacioretty had to be carried off of the ice on a stretcher and missed the rest of the season with a vertebrae injury. After the incident, the NHL changed the straight stanchions at the end of the benches and replaced them with curved boards.

Unnecessary injuries can be avoided if the league makes a rule that requires teams to keep their bench doors closed and latched during play and have players execute line changes by climbing over the boards. We’ve seen players get hurt by unlatched doors in the past and it’s only a matter of time before an incident like this has a major impact on a player’s career.
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