Last Tuesday, the Boston Bruins were in Montreal taking on the Canadiens in what appeared to be an uneventful NHL regular season hockey game.
However, in just a moment, the game quickly turned from normal to infamous.
In the the dying seconds of the 2nd period, with his team trailing 4-0 and visibly frustrated, Bruins 6' 9", 255 lbs defenseman Zdeno Chara chased down the much smaller Montreal left-winger Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty did not have the puck but was about to blow by Chara and create a potential scoring opportunity for the Canadiens.
However, Chara merged with Pacioretty and then pushed the 6' 2", 208 pound third-year player into the turnbuckle next to the Bruins' bench. Pacioretty hit the buckle face first, breaking his neck and going completely unconscious for nearly ten minutes.
A stretcher and neck brace ushered Pacioretty to emergency. Chara was dismissed from the game but received no fine or further game suspension.
Head hunting is officially banned in the NHL, but what about driving a player's head into the boards?
Oh yeah, that's illegal too.
Well, what about making the turnbuckle illegal? It ain't no posture pedic pillow. Just ask Max Pacioretty...
Apparently, as shown in the NHL's ruling on Chara's hit, using the turnbuckle to do what is illegal with a shoulder pad is okay.
It is impossible to know what Chara's intentions were. But it is possible to make an educated guess.
Unless the NHL is waiting for an on-ice death, decisions regarding dangerous play making have to be made.
Heck, court rooms decide on assault charges even though the judge and jury never saw the incident.
What if the incident took place in the actual courtroom with cameras rolling? Their job would be that much easier.
Well, NHL, the cameras are rolling and the jury is a global audience. You're the judge.
What's your verdict?
Well, luckily, the public happens to be Pacioretty's prosecuting counsel as well. And we're filing for an appeal. Here's the counter evidence to Chara's "not guilty" verdict:
1. On January 8, 2011, Max Pacioretty scored an overtime goal to lift the Canadiens over the Bruins. As he skated by Chara, Pacioretty offered a less than respectful, but very mild, shove to Chara's backside.
Chara didn't like it and a melee ensued. The two players had started (or intensified) a personal history.
It is well known that NHL players know who they have a score to settle with.
League tough guy and Boston captain Chara - 33 years old - felt disrespected by a 23 year old hot shot, creating some bad blood for Chara.
2. Most NHL players interviewed regarding the incident admitted that Chara (and every minor to major league hockey player) knew exactly where he and Pacioretty were in relation to the turnbuckle.
Tricks of the trade do not escape a 33 year old veteran. A hardy shove at just the right time is how players utilize the turnbuckle. Just watch any one of Don Cherry's "Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em" compilations...
3. Video footage of the incident seem to confirm the unfortunate notion that Chara actually guided Max Pacioretty's upper body and head into the turnbuckle. The follow-through of Chara's hand has "take it to the hoop" written all over it.
In a statement from hospital, Pacioretty claimed the following:
"I believe he was trying to guide my head into the turnbuckle. We all know where the turnbuckle is. It wasn't a head shot like a lot of head shots we see but I do feel he targeted my head into the turnbuckle."
4. The Bruins were playing angry, frustrated hockey.
The two historic rivals will most likely face each other in the first round of the playoffs.
Losing badly to a team like that is tough, and the Bruins were starting to play with negative emotion. In this context, adding an edge to every check is what the losing team reverts to.
And any time you place two players with a grudge in a play with consequence, you'll get the worst out of the player on the unhappy team.
I'm not saying Chara meant to break Pacioretty's neck or even knock him out.
But he was trying to rub out a fast Pacioretty from going on a potential scoring drive. And Chara was still feeling the burn of their January 8 encounter and the 4-0 scoreboard.
So the Slovakian put a dirty, violent edge on the play.
In short, yes, the style of Chara's check was standard, but the timing and intent definitely were not.
The game misconduct allowed Chara to miss the rest of the game. This ultimately served to protect Chara.
It did not punish him.
Sending him back to the lion's den of the Montreal arena would have been harsher then to stick him in a hot shower and on a plane back to Boston.
Then to let Pacioretty and his family wait for a prognosis on the rookie's career while Chara's pocket book and next-day schedule remained the same was gross miscarriage of justice on the violent incident.
The NHL has eliminated head shots precisely to protect players. Not for entertainment value.
It needs to be equally intolerant of other means to target an opponent's head and face. Unfortunately the league is reluctant to de-claw the NHL game any more than it has since banning head hunting.
Hard hits are part of the property value of professional hockey. And fans are going to tune into the next Bruins-Montreal game in record numbers to hopefully witness a brutal retaliation against Chara.
And if/when the on-ice vengeance occurs, a possible future Bruins-Montreal playoff will sky rocket in viewership. That's the nature of the viewing public.
The Roman crowd in the Coliseum was as guilty as the Caesars. We are a populace that gives sanctioned violence the dollar value it has and the NHL machine fears losing its appeal.
So it will try and keep the equilibrium as full of violence as society can tolerate.