This is Don Sanderson. Sadly, he passed away today after suffering injuries induced playing hockey.
The 21 year old University student and defenseman with the Whitby Dunlops hit his helmetless head on the ice after engaging in a fight. He had spent the past three weeks in a coma.
If you would like to e-mail your thoughts and condolences to the Sanderson family, visit the Whitby Dunlops website here.
Of course, this has raised another heated debate about violence in hockey, as well as helmet regulations. Hey, that debate is not only necessary but encouraged, but the debate is 100 years old.
Owen McCourt is hockey's first known game related fatality. Legend has hit that in 1907 Charles Masson allegedly used his stick to render McCourt bloody and unconscious. The following morning McCourt died in hospital. Masson later went on to face charges of murder, but was acquitted by the judge who determined that it could not be proved that Masson's stick was the stick that dealt the fatal blow. McCourt was apparently a slick scorer playing for a local team in Cornwall Ontario at the time of his death.
More famously, NHL player Bill Masterton died after hitting his head on the ice.
On January 13th, 1968, the North Stars were playing the Oakland Seals. Early in the game Masterton led a solo rush into Oakland territory where he was greeted unceremoniously by Seals' defensemen Larry Cahan and Ron Harris. Both defenders nailed the smaller Masterton with very hard though clean body check. Masterton fell to the ice, hitting his helmetless head on the ice, instantly knocking him out cold.
Masterton never regained consciousness. For more than 30 hours doctors managed to keep him alive using respirators but the massive internal brain injuries were too immense. Early in the morning of January 15th, 1968, Masterton died.
It is unfortunate, but when you play hockey there is an inherent risk of getting hurt. Players like McCourt, Masterton and now Sanderson paid too high a price to play the game they love.
We can eliminate fighting, head shots, and dangerous bodychecking. But there will always be an inherent risk of injury, and unfortunately a risk of death. That chances remain remote, probably on par with the chances of dieing by a strike of lightning or tripping on a curb and hitting our heads on the pavement. Unfortunately it just happens.
Hopefully Sanderson's death does not go for not. I'm not sure what you can do though. Will banning fighting help? In the league where Mr. Sanderson played fighting is banned, but ultimately fights still will happen. Can you eliminate head shots? Deliberate ones sure, but clean hits unfortunately sometimes result in unintended contact.