It is not very often that I call out players for things they do on the ice, but on March 31, 2014, I felt compelled.
That was the morning after Nashville Predators enforcer Rich Clune ended the season of Capitals rookie defenseman Patrick Wey with a knockout punch that, in hindsight, never should have happened.
Today, it was reported that Wey, 24, has decided to retire from hockey after suffering multiple concussion. It should be noted that the concussion suffered at the hands of Clune was not Wey’s first and it was not his last.
A fourth-round [115th overall] pick of the Capitals in the 2009 NHL draft, Wey had his season ended last year on Oct. 24 when he absorbed a blow to the head from Lehigh Valley Phantoms heavyweight Jay Rosehill, who received a one-game suspension for the hit.
Wey’s decision to walk away from the game at such a young age is an admirable one. But could it have been avoided?
Shortly after his fight with Clune, I remember chatting with Wey atop the Verizon Center press box and during that conversation he revealed he had suffered previous concussions before the fight with Clune and that he was concerned about his long-term health. Less than six months later he played his final game.
Wey joins a growing list of NHL players who have had to retire prematurely because of head injuries and while his retirement will warrant little more than a mention in hockey circles, it should give pause for thought for how violent – and at times unnecessarily violent – the sport of hockey can be.
Clune, who had fought 138 times since turning pro in 2007-08, had nothing to gain by fighting Wey, who had dropped the gloves just once in his career before their fight on March 30, 2014.
It was immediately after taking a clean, open-ice hit from Wey in front of the players’ benches that Clune dropped the gloves and threw a bevy of overhand right hands to the head of Wey before finishing him off with an uppercut to the chin that buckled Wey’s knees and dropped him to the ice.
Simply put, Clune’s decision to fight Wey was an overreaction to a clean hit. But it was his decision not to fight Capitals tough guy Tom Wilson the remainder of the game that made me reconsider the real value of fighting in the game. For years I have stood by the argument that fighting belongs in the game and serves as a deterrent to dirty hits. But after considering the plight of Wey, it may be time to reconsider.