Horton's life & career have changed/By S. Bradley

BOSTON — Well here’s Exhibit A why the NHL should just give up with suspending players until it has created an outright ban against hits to the head, and why the NHLPA has to get more involved in the education process if it wants to preserve the brains of its members.

Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome, who will always be as infamous in Boston as Ulf Samuelsson after he ended Nathan Horton’s season with a hit to the head, spoke with some assembled media at TD Garden today after the Canucks practiced in preparation for tomorrow night’s Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. While not every member of the media was alerted to Rome’s first availability since the Game 3 hit, his comments have been widely distributed since.

Rome was suspended four games for a hit that caused a severe concussion to Horton. So he’s now sitting out a ban that has cost him his lifelong dream of playing for the Stanley Cup. Yet, here’s what he had to say about the play in question:

“If I could go back, I’d wish he didn’t get hurt but I don’t think it would change my decision on the play,” said Rome. “I’ve got to step up and be physical, that’s part of my game. It’s just unfortunate.”

Rome could’ve easily said something like “I wish I hadn’t hit him in the head” or “I’ve got to be careful not to hit him in the head.” After all, the 6-foot-1 could have avoided a blow to the upright, 6-2 Horton’s head. Instead, Rome is falling back on the old messages of wishing Horton wasn’t hurt, but putting a little blame on Horton — like many victims of headshots before him — for not keeping his head up.

“There has to be some accountability on the part of the player skating with the puck up the middle of the ice — maybe with his head down not looking,” said Rome. “If it’s half a second earlier, a quarter of a second earlier, I’m not in this situation.

“But the game happens fast and, for me, I’ve got to play on the edge and I guess that time it a little bit over the edge.”

Playing on or over the edge for Rome means he’ll still be able to go out on the ice with the Stanley Cup if Vancouver wins. It means that he probably won’t have any health problems when he shows up to training camp next spring. Horton? Well who knows?

It’s been pointed out that Rome was the victim of a questionable hit in the Western Conference Final from Jamie McGinn. The play caused a concussion that Rome recovered from in time to return to action. One would think that would make him more sensitive to these issues. Instead he’s just spewing out the old “caveman” cliches about keeping ones head up and needing to always play physical. “I wish he wasn’t hurt.” Sounds like something a fourth-grader would say after throwing a rock at someone’s head.

Horton, meanwhile, doesn’t get to the play in the Final. And as we know, his future is questionable for now. Marc Savard once looked over his concussion problems and then showed up at training camp last fall and couldn’t do any activity. These things are always a crap shoot.

There’s been a debate raging for years over what the proper punishment for a hit like Rome’s should be. Many even thought the four-game ban, especially considering the time of year, was too harsh. I say, enough with the bans. Instead lets make anyone guilty of a blow to the head live his life as though he has a concussion. No talking on the phone, no television, just sitting in a dark room with very little food or human interaction. In Rome’s case, that might not have worked because he already knew what recovering from a concussion entailed. But maybe it would teach some other guys a lesson.

The one thing I would’ve liked to have seen from Rome is an apology. By most accounts, this is a “good guy” who wouldn’t intend to injure. But you do a search for the word “sorry” in the stories using his comments and it never shows up. The guy doesn’t even have the decency to apologize for the hit. All he’s really worried about is the ban he received and the fact that if he was a half-second quicker he’d still be playing.

The Bruins and Canucks have built up quite a bit of hate for one another over the course of this series. At the end of the day, though, they’re all still human beings, still just hockey players, and some of these guys might even be inter-team friends.

It wouldn’t have killed Rome to be apologetic about a hit that not only altered a Cup Final series but altered a career. One of these days a hit like Rome’s, however, might kill unless everyone gets more serious about shots to the head.