When the NHL, in the interests of protecting its players, gets around to ordering bigger ice surfaces, I hope it has the sense to borrow a page from auto racing and install a SAFER barrier-type board system.
In fact, it could try this sooner rather than later on the stanchions that exist in all present-day rinks. Yes, they’re padded, but the padding is almost as rock-solid as the stanchion itself.
In any event, I thought about this Tuesday night as I watched a replay of Zdeno Chara’s hit in Montreal on Max Pacioretty, whose career might now be in jeopardy.
The SAFER system, which has now been installed at just about every big-league oval racing speedway in North America, was developed by engineers at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in an effort to make racing accidents — well — safer.
Financed by Tony George and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the SAFER barrier (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction barrier), which is also known as a soft wall, is constructed of polystyrene foam between an inner and outer shell. The barrier absorbs the energy when a racing car makes contact with it. The race cars go “into” the wall rather than bouncing off it. There is “give,” whereas before there was nothing but a solid wall.
Race cars are no longer damaged as badly as they were pre-SAFER, and the wear and tear on the race drivers has diminished significantly. In fact, no NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers or Indy car drivers have been killed as the result of a collision with a wall since Dale Earnhardt Sr. died 10 years ago and that happened before the first SAFER barrier was installed, at Indianapolis, in 2002.
It’s worked for auto racing and I can’t help but think it would do wonders for hockey. The "boards" would still be solid, so pucks would carom off them much as they do now, but the players would be better protected when crashing into them.
Max Pacioretty might still have been injured as the result of that hit into the boards/stanchion last night but he might not have suffered as serious an injury if there had been some type of SAFER system employed.