1. 4.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Suspend Or Not Suspend: That Is A Good Question – The Colonel

Richards on Booth. Cooke on Savard. Ovechkin on Campbell. Three hits, three injuries, and, pending judgment about Ovechkin, at least two, un-suspended hits which injured players (with a possible third). Payroll dolled out for no return on a team’s investment. Doctor’s and therapists and media, oh my.

It’s pandemonium run amuck, I say.

Not at all to excuse the actions taken by the hitters in this case, I nonetheless would like to attempt to express the magnitude of the problem from their perspective. Since I am a military man, I do so using as a construct, John Boyd’s OODA Loop.

The Boyd Cycle/OODA Loop

In a nutshell, John Boyd developed the theory of the OODA Loop to explain very quick decision making done while engaged in aerial combat with fighter jets. The four components of the OODA Loop explain how a decision to take action is made and are:

1. Observation

2. Orientation

3. Decision

4. Action

Observation is collecting data using all available senses. For a speeding Hockey player, it is a combination of sight, sound, and memory. In the case of the hits/shoves in question: sight was used to locate an objective – the hittee; sounds were what was ‘seen’ outside of the periphery that indicated where other players and the puck were, or were not, on the ice; and memory told each player after their hours and hours logged playing games on the ice what the hittee could and could not reasonably do – such as pass the puck or turn – before they took action.

These observations allowed the hitters to Orient on their intended target based on their mental perceptions the data gave them.

Having oriented on someone to hit or not hit, they then Decided they would line them up.

And having made the decision, they took Action to deliver the hit.

Three Hits

The issue here is all four of those steps above came in a very compressed space and time and at speeds that are faster than some folks who now discuss it in the media played the game. Again, this is not an excuse for what happened. I offer it merely to point out when the first muscle twitch at the end of step three/in step four above occurred, the players were often times committed.

For Mike Richards, if the decision to hit David Booth was indeed to separate him from the puck, then the orient step in the cycle should not have begun until Booth touched the puck coming up out of his end of the ice. From that moment, Richards skated (all approximately) 95ft in three seconds, or at 34.75 kph/21.59 mph, as he completed the last two steps in the OODA Loop and made contact with David Booth.

For Matt Cooke on Marc Savard – and we won’t debate the motives here at all – the calculations are approximately 10 feet and 1 seconds, or seemingly only 10.97 kph/6.82 mph. The issue here is when you figure the physics of it, Cooke and Savard were closing on each other, and closing speed is cumulative. So they were going at a relative, approximately 22 kph/18 mph when they hit. In one second, you could easily say Cooke simply didn’t think – he decided and took action to hit Savard.

And for Ovechkin and Campbell, the entire play took place over a distance of 60 feet in five seconds, or a relative 13.17 kph/8.18 mph. If you look at the sequence of the hit, you will see Ovechkin speed up at the blueline to chase the puck and then, knowing Campbell was going to get there first, he coasts from the faceoff dot through the hit and turn/trip behind the net.

The ‘So What?’

Why give you those numbers? Firstly, in order to get you to suspend your disbelief (and anger) for a moment, I would ask you what kind of trouble can you get into in 3, 1 or 5 seconds? I would offer if you are going through the Observe, Orient, Decide, Action cycle to accomplish something in that short a time span, we are talking something like dropping your cell phone in your car floorboard while driving, leaning down to get it, and having an accident in the process. Happens every day, multiple times, and is why laws are being written to make it illegal to talk while you drive without a hands-free device.

That said, if you are past the anger at the injuries for a moment, you should next come to the question: How do we prevent these types of incidents?

You could slow down the game of Hockey by allowing clutching and grabbing to come back into the game. That is not going to happen, though. The game is exciting when it is played fast and hard.

You might next say players could be educated on when and where to hit in order to avoid such incidents. I would argue first you must define for them what is good and bad play in these cases or you have no proper framework to reference. The definition comes in the form of a rule(s) put in place to define the incorrect behavior and the consequences of taking incorrect actions. (The consequences here, by the way, figure into the Observation, Orient and Decide steps of the OODA Loop so have three potential points where they could aid a player in deciding not to make a dangerous hit.)

The ‘Head Shot’ rule coming out of the GM meetings in Boca Raton would provide definitions for the Richards and Cooke decisions that more or less clearly state the action decided upon is incorrect and will receive punishment. Based on the rule’s definition, players can be shown tape of incidents that fall under this rule’s purview and the consequences can be discussed in the locker/meeting rooms and enforced on the ice/from NHL headquarters.

Ovechkin’s hit on Campbell, however, was not a head shot. He was pushed/hit in the numbers on the back of his sweater. Was there intent to injure? Judging by his actions sitting on the ice down at the goal line near Campbell, I would have to say regret was there immediately. So what do we do here?

I agree it is the kind of choice made in a few seconds that has a very nasty, unwanted ending. I agree a penalty should have been given at the time, popular or unpopular as it may be depending on your perspective. I believe there was NOT intent to injure, so a 5-minute major for the infraction for boarding is probably not overly excessive, but the game misconduct tends to imply intent to injure which is incorrect. Should there maybe be ANOTHER rule about hitting being illegal when you can see the numbers on the back of the sweater? Hmmmm...

And supplemental punishment? The precedent is out there twice already that Ovechkin’s hit is not a suspendable incident.

But just maybe education should be the proper answer here. I would say Richards, Cooke and Ovechkin (and those that come after them) should be sentenced by the NHL to produce a short video taking the other players who would be viewing it through their 3, 1 and 5 second decisions, why they decided to hit the other player, explain what the infraction is, and then state what they believe, rules be damned, a player should think about the actions they took and individually do when in the same situation.


Decisions to take actions in a Hockey game, over very short periods of time and at increasing speeds can in some cases be very damaging. The Boyd Cycle/OODA Loop implies there is a thought process ongoing that can be influenced with proper training of players who don the skates, grab the sticks and go forth to do battle. When the infraction is not a suspendable offense, it should still provide a teaching point of what is proper and improper conduct on the ice. So when Mr. Campbell hands down no games in the owner’s box, there should still be a date set for the player to come in, review the action and go on record as to what is correct and incorrect activity in the game and why.

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