Former New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey knows too well how serious head injuries can be and how it can impact an NHL career. He personally understands the ramifications a reckless hit to the head can have on a career and why hits like last night need to be out of the game.
In the third period of last night's 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, defenseman Adam Pelech was hit with a dirty right elbow in the head by Habs forward Brendan Gallagher, leading to a five-minute major match penalty. "This is a disgusting hit. This isn't 1990 or the early 2000s," said Hickey during the MSG Network post-game. "This needs to be out of the game. Just a terrible, terrible hit."
"After seeing multiple new looks from other broadcasts…. the hit is even worse than I thought during post-game," Hickey later replied on X. Pelech, who missed 21 games last season with a concussion, left the ice at 11:52 of the third and did not return. The 29-year-old former All-Star has been unable to avoid injury in recent years, having also missed 23 games this season with two separate injuries.
Hickey's assessment of the hit matched the consensus view around the league.
"It was so bad," wrote ESPN on NHL broadcaster AJ Mleczko. "Hard to watch the replays. Both his feet left the ice on impact with Pelech. Just hope Adam is ok."
The defenseman-turned-broadcaster went on to explain that there's always the expectation for a player to protect himself at all times; however, in this case, Pelech gets his head up in time and couldn't have possibly been expecting to get hit in that manner.
Gallagher's former teammate in Montreal, P.K. Subban, also went to social media in reaction to the hot. “It’s not a hockey play. It’s not a collision in the corner. It’s not a battle for the puck. This is a guy skating the puck through the middle of the ice, and Gallagher throws his elbow right into his chin."
During a game against the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 17, 2018, Hickey was injured when the back of his head hit the side boards. He had been a regular for the team in Barry Trotz's first season, playing in 40 games, having inked a four-year extension during the summer.
However, after the hit, there were several false starts in his recovery. Those regressions kept pushing back his timetable for a return, which never came that season. It would be 716 days before he played in his next NHL game. He played in a total of seven NHL games for the remainder of his career.
Gallagher has never been suspended in his 12-year NHL career, but that is almost certain to change. NHL Player Safety announced this morning that Gallagher will have a hearing today for "an illegal check to the head on NY Islanders’ Adam Pelech." The hearing will be over the phone and not in person, meaning the maximum penalty will be a five game suspension.