Kevin Haskin: Injury sent Runners down-Hill

During the Robertson Cup, intermission filler such as video messages and promotional giveaways featured Michael Hill.


The problem for the Topeka RoadRunners is Hill sometimes involved — live on the Landon Arena rink — himself in the marketing.

The All-NAHL forward spent the hockey tournament behind the bench — out of skates and off the ice — while continuing to recover from a March 12 concussion.

On Thursday night, Hill watched his teammates lose for the third consecutive night and fail to move on in the Cup as Michigan stopped Topeka, 5-2.  Had Hill, who still led the Runners with 37 goals despite missing 28 games overall, been healthy, Topekans may still have had a home team to root for going into the weekend.

“I feel like I can play, but it’s probably not the smartest thing to do,’’ said Hill, who was participating in non-contact drills. “This is something not to play with. You can’t get a brain transplant.’’

Hill’s medical history complicated matters. This was his fourth diagnosed concussion.

He consulted with four doctors — a neurologist, head trauma specialist, team physician and primary care physician — since suffering the most recent blow.

Nonetheless, Hill has his head on straight.

He is in the process of composing a letter to the league. He said it will contain apologies for his own aggressiveness, which triggered a retaliatory hit that caused his concussion. In addition, he will make recommendations for cleaner play in the NAHL.

Now for some background.

The reason Hill is out, he realizes, is retaliation for a hit he administered earlier in the season against the Amarillo Bulls.

A cross-check by Hill in a Dec. 31 game caused Bulls defenseman Derek Hills to lose two teeth and prompted league officials to issue Hill a seven-game suspension.

Amarillo then imposed an additional measure of enforcement on its own. Hill sustained his latest concussion on a cross-check by Bulls forward Brooks Behling in a March 12 rematch. The hit also dislocated Hill’s jaw. Rather than deal Behling a commensurate seven-game suspension, he was ruled out for five games, even though he effectively ended Hill’s season.

“The suspension was different and I didn’t think it met expectations,’’ Hill said. “I kind of think it’s unfair, but it’s like people say, life is not fair.’’

By applying that perspective, Hill is moving on with his life. A complete recovery will clear him to play collegiately next season for Alaska-Fairbanks.

Yes, Hill regrets the New Year’s Eve collision that stirred this whole rhubarb and sparked a fierce rivalry with Amarillo, which finished second to Topeka in the South Division, then edged the Runners in a best-of-five series in the NAHL playoffs. In their Robertson Cup matchup on Wednesday, Amarillo nipped Topeka, 4-3.

“Oh, yeah. I regret it,’’ said Hill, “but before that play, I get interfered, I get cross-checked into the boards and I’m coming out in front of the net and the guy who did it, Hills, landed on my face and my jaw dislocated then, too.

“So I got up and I hit him. That’s something that’s really not my character. I wasn’t raised that way. ... I’m a pretty calm person and usually I’m pretty composed on the ice. But when people make me a target and the refs aren’t doing anything, I have to take things into my own hands.’’

Unfortunately for Hill, the Bulls took that same approach.

After eight weeks to unscramble his thoughts, view replays of the hits and assess the fallout, Hill is motivated to write NAHL officials.

“Mostly what I’m saying to the league is I apologize to the Amarillo Bulls and the Hills family, and what I did wasn’t right,’’ Hill said. “Also, I think the league needs to change its rules on contact a little bit and consider the NCAA rules, because anything to the head in the NCAA is an automatic suspension.

“I just feel that if (the NAHL) changed the rules, the game would be a lot safer. I want the league to receive my apology, and I also want them to realize this league has a lot of great players and they need to be protected.’’

Hill learned the hard way. Protection for him has been reactionary.

Doctors advised him not to play in the Cup. Runners owner Don Stone agreed after reviewing the medical reports. Finally, Hill complied, recognizing his return was too risky.

Oh, how he would have loved to lace those skates and wear his uniform — the one adorned with the coveted ‘C’ patch, which designated Hill as a captain. He was awarded that distinction after telling Runners coach Scott Langer, ‘‘my heart is in Topeka,’’ and spurning an opportunity to play in the USHL as a first-round pick in that league.

“There’s no doubt I want to play so bad,’’ Hill said. “It hurts to watch my team lose, particularly to the Amarillo Bulls, which took my season away from me. It’s frustrating, but I totally forgive the kid who hit me.’’

Kevin Haskin can be reached
at (785) 295-1159

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