The American Hockey League is cracking down on the players who crack heads.

Since the start of preseason five weeks ago, 14 players have been suspended for 33 games for illegal hits to the head, elbowing, boarding or high-stick penalties.

The number of suspensions equals the combined number of player suspensions meted out by the AHL for the same time period during the previous four seasons.

“We are applying a strictness that is consistent with the direction the National Hockey League has taken over the course of the summer, which is to change the rules relevant to head checking and also change the rules relative to boarding,” AHL President Dave Andrews said. “We’ve had more scrutiny in terms of head checking, more scrutiny in terms of the new boarding rule, consequently, more reviews and possibly more suspensions.”

Earlier this week, veteran Portland Pirates center Ryan Hollweg served a one-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head last Saturday during a game against the Providence Bruins. Portland left wing Igor Gongalsky is now serving a two-game suspension for an elbowing incident in the same game.

“There is a heightened standard of disciplinary action,” Andrews said. “(It) is in keeping with the standard the NHL has and also in keeping with the desires that our own players’ association has had in conversations with them that we step up vigilance with respect to head checking.”

The Pirates were traveling  Thursday after playing a two-game series against the St. John’s IceCaps in Newfoundland, and team officials were unavailable for comment. Last summer, a new head checking penalty was enacted and changes were made to expand the types of action which constitute boarding.

“The overall perspective of a referee to call a boarding penalty is much broader than it was before,” Andrews said. “It doesn’t have to be a violent hit. It can be whatever causes the player to go into the boards in an awkward fashion where he’s unable to protect himself.”

Not all boarding penalties lead to suspensions, Andrews said. “The standard is the degree to which the hit leads to injury or whether the play the player makes is a dangerous play or the degree to which we think it’s a deliberate attempt to injure.”

Andrews said the AHL is reviewing every checking to the head penalty, using injury reports, officials’ reports and video to determine whether a suspension is warranted.

The league is not reviewing every boarding penalty, he said. “If one of those teams involved believes there’s a play that was under-called by an official, they can ask the league to review it.”

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

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