BOSTON -- The backdrops and visuals that come with outdoor hockey are plenty. But as eight teams of the NCAA's Hockey East take the ice in Fenway Park to participate in Frozen Fenway this month, they're being met by a unique sight to any rink: the "look-up line."
Per a release from Hockey East, the line is comparable to a warning track in baseball, and is meant to alert players they're approaching the boards, and to both keep their heads up, and to avoid checking players from behind.
The Look-Up LineTM, ice hockey's first warning track; is an adjunct to decreasing the risk of head and catastrophic spinal cord injuries. It is a preventive approach to making hockey safer without affecting the game's speed, intensity or heritage; all while not adding any new rules that may adversely impact play. The safety challenge in ice hockey lies with how to continue developing bigger, faster and stronger athletes while trying to operate within a progressively safer framework. The best solution to a complex problem is often the most simple, and we believe the Look-Up LineTM is the answer to a safer game of ice hockey.
The line itself on the rink appeared much duller than the picture in the release, which was taken when the look-up line and the rest of the ice was painted. With Merrimack, Providence, Boston College, and Notre Dame all going through practices on Friday in advance of the first weekend of Frozen Fenway, the players and coaches downplayed the visibility and effectiveness of the line in its current form.
"I didn't even notice it," said Kevin Hayes of Boston College, and a first round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. His head coach, Jerry York, who skated with his team during practice, also said he didn't notice the line.
It's only a trial, and there's no knowing what its effectiveness will be, but the impetus is clear: to make the game safer.
"Anything you can do to limit the amount of catastrophic or devastating injuries, you want to do." said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehey. "It's a step in the right direction."
With the atmosphere and stage to soak in, and the look-up line having been weathered from team practices and a winter storm, it's current form might not be its most effective. The safety measure, founded by the Thomas E. Smith Foundation, is normally painted right up against the boards, and is a thicker line. Due to the weather conditions in New England, however, the Fenway line is 28 inches away from the boards, and only 12 inches thick, compared to its normal 40 inches.
"You notice it a little bit," said Merrimack's Jordan Heywood. "When you're out there, you're kind of more focused on what's going on than a line you've seen for the first time. "I didn't notice it a ton. I noticed it before I got on the ice, and that was pretty much it."
His teammate Mike Collins echoed a similar sentiment.
"After the first couple of laps it's a non-factor," he said.
The line didn't prevent Boston College's Michael Sit from being assessed a major boarding penalty and a game misconduct in a game Saturday night against Notre Dame. But again, it's difficult to point out any detriments this kind of system comes with, and it's certainly an innovative idea, if not a marked step forward in player safety.