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We have obviously seen a lot of really bad hits in the NHL this season, and one problem that seems to consistently emerge in the immediate aftermath of these checks is team personnel — from announcers to players to coaches — falling down in their hurry to defend these hits as being totally clean and within the rules.
The most recent two example of this come from Philadelphia (where else?). The Flyers have long had in their employ some seriously dangerous thugs whose sole job seems to be trying to injure opposing players. And moreover, when one of those players crosses the line, from the gray area where legality and illegality come together so brackishly in this league, into obvious suspension-worthy play, this is an organization that tries very hard to make apologies for it at best, and outright defend it at worst.
That was the case when Harry Zolniercyzk leapt shoulderfirst into the Ottawa Senators’ Mike Lundin as he came across the blue line, and in doing so earned a five-minute charging major and game misconduct. Michael Jordan never thought leave his feet with as much fervor as Zolniercyzk did in trying to separate Lundin, who admittedly came across the middle of the ice with his head down (not that this is any sort of justification for trying to hospitalize him), but that didn’t stop blockhead announcer Keith Jones from saying that it was only the momentum of the ferocious hit that made Zolniercyzk leave his feet, not the obvious crouch-and-explode motion that immediately preceded contact. Jones further noted that jeez if he did make contact with Lundin’s head (and did he ever!), it was incidental, and not targeted. “That’s as close as it can get,” he said without a hint of irony.
Laughable stuff, but expected from the kind of dullard who also supported the Flyers’ crybaby decision to sit on the puck for 45 seconds against the Lightning because they didn’t like the defensive schemes with which they were being presented. That he did so on national TV, and not in his capacity as Flyers’ color man, without disclosing that he is a team employee, shows the kind of intellectual honesty with which we’re dealing.
Other defenses of Zolniercyzk came from equally-embarrassing hockey player Zac Rinaldo (”From my eyes, I thought it was beautiful. I thought it was a great hit, but I only saw it for a split second.”) and coach Peter Laviolette (”When you look at it, Harry didn’t really do anything wrong.”), but that’s to be expected, at least to some extent. If the Flyers went around decrying every dirty hit thrown by someone on their payroll, that’s all they’d do morning, noon, and night. No one has time for that.
Remember a couple years back when everyone made such a big thing about Andrew Ference coming out and saying teammate Dan Paille’s hit on Raymond Sawada had no place in the game? That’s because it was a big deal. Guys should feel free to call out teammates for dirty hits, because if we’re going to sit here and talk about “respecting opponents” and “respecting the game,” there needs to be some accountability.
The same is true in Buffalo, where Patrick Kaleta just got his second multiple-game suspension and third bit of supplemental discipline from the league in the last 18 months or so. Ryan Miller has been a pretty vocal advocate of getting garbage plays like the kind Kaleta throws around on the regular out of the game, but whenever his teammate reoffends, he’s quieter than the Sabres offense. You don’t hear him calling Kaleta a “piece of [poop]” like he did when Milan Lucic ran him, and that’s a shame, because teammates and coaches and GMs saying guys need to cut it out or get the hell off the goddamn team seems to work a whole lot better than the occasional five-gamer. It worked with Matt Cooke, and it can happen with pieces of garbage like Zolniercyzk and Kaleta, who very clearly need someone to constantly remind them, “Don’t try to kill anyone out there.”
Hockey’s a dangerous enough game without guys intentionally trying to injure opponents. So let’s start acting like this stuff is actually unacceptable, instead of letting it all slide.
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