Weldon weighs in on NHL headshots furor

Marlow Weldon

Marlow Weldon

The thorny issue of headshots in the NHL raised its, pardon the pun, ugly head again this week, with everyone from cops to the Prime Minister chiming in after the latest incident of on-ice violence.

It all happened last Tuesday at the Bell Centre in Montreal, when Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty was slammed into a padded stanchion by Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, leaving Pacioretty with a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra in his neck.

If you haven’t seen the hit, I would highly suggest heading over to youtube.com and taking a look at it, but be warned, it’s not pretty.

The video shows Pacioretty chasing down a puck near the Bruins’ players bench, when he is rubbed out along the boards by Chara.

Chara, who towers over everybody in the NHL at 6′ 9”, appears to use his forearm to direct Pacioretty’s head into the stanchion (the part of the bench where the bench ends and the glass begins), with his head and neck then snapping back before he falls to the ice unconscious.

Chara was assessed a five minute penalty for interference and a game misconduct on the play, while Pacioretty was taken off the ice on a stretcher and transported to hospital where he stayed overnight.

The league itself added more kindling to the raging fire when it decided not to suspend Chara for the hit, saying the penalty that was assessed on the ice was more than enough punishment.

Montreal fans went crazy (despite the fact that they cheered wildly recently when one of their own, Hal Gill did the same thing to Jon Simm, although Simm managed to escape injury) and even a couple of corporate sponsors threatened to pull their advertising dollars if the league didn’t do something to crack down on head shots.

I’ll admit I was torn when I saw the re-play, but after a week to reflect, I’ve come to the same conclusion as the NHL.

I know that opinion won’t make me very popular with fans of the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge, but after talking with several people that are actually in the game, this incident was a clean hit that unfortunately resulted in a severe injury.

I had the chance to talk to Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin about the hit, and if there’s anyone in the game that knows how devastating a concussion can be, it’s him.

Wallin himself saw his very promising playing career end because of a severe concussion, and although the cheap shot that knocked him out of the AHL/NHL and the hit that Chara delivered on Pacioretty are nowhere even close to being similar, I still felt Wallin had a lot to offer on the subject.

“There’s two guys going for a loose puck, and a big guy rubs his man out and to me, that’s a hockey play. It’s unfortunate that a player ended up injured to that degree. No one likes to see that, but at the same time, we are in a contact sport and I think the hits we want to eliminate from the game are the blindside hits, the deliberate head shots, and the checking from behind.” said Wallin when asked.

And the Chara/Pacioretty hit was not a blindside, a headshot or a check from behind.

It was two guys going hard for the puck, and you can guarantee that if Chara had held up and not hit Pacioretty, he would have heard it on the bench from Bruins coach Claude Julien, as every hockey player, from bantam up, is taught to finish their checks.

Yes, the play resulted in an injury, but the NHL can’t hand out suspensions for every single clean play where someone gets hurt.