Finishing your hits or finishing a career? - Denny Scott editorial
In back-to-back series, the Montreal Canadiens have seen the two kinds of hits that can end a career: the accidental collision resulting in injury and the intent-to-injure hit that leads little doubt as to what was going through the head of the offender.
The Habs have been on either end of the two collisions: last month, Cory Perry did everything he could to avoid hitting Toronto Maple Leaf Jonathan Tavares’ head after Tavares got knocked down directly in Perry’s path; this month, Winnipeg Jet Mark Scheifele’s intentional hit on a vulnerable Jake Evans of the Canadiens resulted in Evans being taken off the ice on a stretcher.
It’s a tough thing to weigh in on because, while I may not look it now, I was a pretty intense hockey player (left defence) in my youth. I wasn’t short when I first entered body contact leagues, but then everyone else kept growing and I just kind of plateaued. Despite that, I played a pretty physical game and I know that the difference between playing the puck and playing the body usually comes down to emotion because, if you can, playing the puck is always a more effective way of playing defence.
Let’s deal with Perry first: For those who didn’t see it, during the May 20 game of the Habs-Leafs series, Ben Chiarot knocked down Tavares, which wasn’t a problem (despite what some diehard Leaf fans have claimed). While on the ice, however, Perry, who was trying not to hit Tavares, ended up connecting his knee with Tavares’ head.
Tavares doesn’t remember the hit and, as of writing this, hadn’t watched the video. That tells you how bad of a situation it was. That could have easily been a career-ending collision, or worse. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
It was a gut-wrenching spectacle to watch and I’m sure I must have seen the hit a dozen times in replays and news programs the night of and the day after the hit. Each time it was nauseating.
Fast-forward to last week, however, and you have the other kind of collision: the one where another player is doing his damndest to hit his opponents so hard that it might end their career.
Winnipeg’s Scheifele skated nearly the entire length of the ice before the hit on June 2, his feet left the ground as a result of his momentum and, even if he was coasting, he had a full head of steam when he caught Evans. Evans was wrapping around the Jets’ empty net and, as the puck was entering the net, he was decimated by Scheifele.
There’s a lot that can be argued about this hit: did his elbow intentionally come up? Did he charge? Did he leave his feet? You could argue any of the above points and no one except Scheifele will be able to know the actual truth.
What can’t be argued, however, is the fact that Scheifele didn’t attempt to play the puck. Evans hadn’t completed the play, wrapping the puck around but not quite scoring the goal until just as the collision occurred. I can tell you, as a somewhat-experienced hockey player, if I see an opponent attempting a wrap-around on my empty net, I’m going to be diving towards the net in hopes of either knocking the puck away or creating just enough confusion to make it harder for the referees to call it a goal (sure, maybe that’s not on the level, but you do what you do to win, not to hurt people). I’m not going to be moving my stick away from the puck to line up a vengeance hit like Scheifele did. That’s emotion driving you, not logic or sense.
Both Tavares and Evans have an uncertain future ahead of them, especially since both have previously suffered injuries that could prevent them from getting back on the ice.
So what’s the point, readers may ask? Well, I’ve always had this belief of a pseudo-eye-for-an-eye punishment when it comes to these illegal hits. If a player injures another player as a result of an illegal play, illegal equipment or some other rule-breaking-situation, their (unpaid) suspension should be exactly as long as the injured player is off the roster. The point is that if you hurt someone else, you suffer as much time off as they do.
That becomes a tough penalty during the playoffs because, if the Jets win and Evans doesn’t get a chance to skate until next season, well then neither does Scheifele, regardless of how nice a guy he may be. The way things are, which resulted in a four-game suspension for Scheifele, proves something needs to change. I’m all for good, hard hits, but what Scheifele did was irresponsible and reprehensible.