Crazed Leaf fans are preparing for the dawn of another NHL season. They’re joining hockey pools, buying hideously overpriced tickets and dishing out hundreds for an NHL satellite TV connection, all in the hope that this will be the year the Blue and White bring home hockey’s Holy Grail.

While fans ready themselves, the team they support has also been busy preparing for the inauguration of their 76th season. Trades, training camp, draft picks, and free agency are all preparatory activities that the Leafs, along with every other NHL club, have been participating in for months. But this year, more than ever, the NHL itself has been busy changing many aspects of the game.

If you aren’t yet aware of the most noticeable change in the league this year, you soon will be. The NHL has decided to put up safety nets above the glass boards to prevent pucks from entering the stands. This change comes in the wake of an accident last season, in which a 13-year-old fan was killed after being hit by a puck in Columbus, OH.

Many self-professed hockey gurus object to the netting because it takes away from the game’s atmosphere. Fans who attend games are also complaining about having their view obstructed. To all those who feel the net shouldn’t be there, I offer a simple piece of advice: stay home and watch the game on TSN. Is your safety and wellbeing not worth having a slightly obstructed view?

The netting would have saved the life of a fan last season, and it will save lives in the future. If anything, the NHL’s ethics should be questioned for not putting it up earlier. Most leagues in Europe and some in North America have been using this safety feature for years.

Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL, said that the league really had no choice in the matter, and that the new precautions had to be implemented. “It wasn’t something that required a great deal of debate. It was a report of what we believed needed to be done and I directed it to be done,” he said in an interview earlier this year.

All hockey leagues and rink operators should adopt this precaution immediately to protect the source of their revenue, the fans. University athletics must also look into making game environments as safe as possible for spectators.

It’s really upsetting to hear some guy at a Leaf game bragging to his friends: “We don’t need that net. Just pay attention like me and duck out of the puck’s way.” To hockey-goers who feel this way, let’s see you try and “duck” a shot by a player such as Al MacInnis, someone who can shoot that vulcanized, frozen rubber disc at more than 100 miles per hour. If that shot gets deflected over the boards and at your head, you won’t have time to blink.

So, a word to the wise if you’re lucky or rich enough to have scored a pair of reds to the Leaf’s home opener on Saturday against Ottawa. Don’t let the presence of a thin, mostly see-through net faze you. It is there for your protection. We all love our hockey stars dearly, but I’m sure no one wants to look like the toothless buggers.

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