Stanley Cup Finals: Aaron Rome Should Not Be Suspended for Hit on Nathan Horton

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Stanley Cup Finals: Aaron Rome Should Not Be Suspended for Hit on Nathan Horton
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Early in game three of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, the Vancouver Canucks' Aaron Rome laid a crushing, damaging, shoulder to head hit on the Boston Bruins' Nathan Horton.

Horton was down on the ice for more than two minutes before being removed from the ice on a stretcher. It was later reported that Horton was still alive and able to move his outer extremities.

Rome was given a five minute major and game misconduct for the hit. Though it fits the NHL's recent rule addition, this was likely not Rome's intention, nor was it his responsibility that Horton ended up hurt. As an NHL forward skating through the neutral zone, Horton should have been aware of his surroundings, and watched where he was going, rather than viewing the results of his pass.

Though the title of this article suggests no suspension considering the idea presented in the previous sentence, readers should fully expect (as the author does) that Rome will be missing for at least game four, considering Gary Bettman's statement that went along with the hiring of Brendan Shanahan in the league's supplementary discipline department, that he "wanted to move some of the emphasis from punishing to improving player safety."

To explain the stance that Horton is the one responsible for his injuries, each aspect of the hit has been broken down.

 

Could Rome have avoided hitting Horton?

 Before Horton passed the puck away, Rome had changed his direction from skating straight backwards to crossing over into Horton's path of direction. Once he had done that, it was too late to back down from applying the hit. There was literally nothing else Rome could do once he committed to the hit.

 

Could Rome have avoided hitting Horton shoulder to head?

When hits like these are viewed on slow-motion instant replay, viewers unfamiliar with the speed of the game may believe that players who apply questionable hits were able to deliver that hit in the precise location that had been planned.

However, regardless of how well and clean a hit is lined up, they can always go wrong when a player doesn't know the hit is coming, or when anything else occurs that is out of the checking player's control.

For example, take a look at this hit delivered by Philadelphia's Ben Holmstrom on Ottawa's Zach Smith. Holmstrom had lined up Smith for a hit, but as he skated towards Smith, Flyers' defenseman Matt Carle hit Smith, slowing him down, and causing Holmstrom to miss his hit and end up catching Smith with an elbow.

The intentionality of the elbow can be debated, but the fact that Holmstrom's lined-up hit went awry is doubtless.

 

Was this Horton's fault for not keeping his head up?

Yes.

Absolutely yes. As stated earlier, NHL forwards need to keep their heads up in the neutral zone. If they don't, they will learn the hard way. (Check here, here, here, and here for players who have learned the hard way this past season). 

 

How could a hit like this happen on the NHL's biggest stage and go unpunished?

If all the reasons given so far weren't enough, here is a simple one; it has happened before. (Video).

This was a check delivered to a player that had just passed the puck off to a teammate, looked in that direction, and got hit in his head by a shoulder check.

No suspension, not even a penalty was called for this extremely similar hit that occurred in the Stanley Cup Finals just seven seasons ago. Was the NHL's followers psychotic with distress over it?

No. Absolutely not.

It was regarded as one of the greatest hockey hits of all time, as it should be; Stevens and Rome have done what any physical hockey player should always do.

They each saw the player carrying the puck put himself in a vulnerable position by refraining to be aware of his surroundings, and crushed him.

 

If Rome shouldn't be suspended, how would justice be served for the Bruins?

The Bruins need to take care of this themselves, regardless of how many games Rome ends up suspended for.

In recent years, Boston has shown a history of failure to respond to hits delivered by players on teams tougher than them. Scott Hartnell and Randy Jones of the Philadelphia Flyers both got away with questionable, dangerous hits on Bruins players.

However, the Bruins had no problem beating up a weak Montreal team this year, or jumping a flimsy Atlanta Thrashers team after a questionable hit by Freddy Meyer. (Both videos here).

Last year when Matt Cooke elbowed Marc Savard in the back of the head, Shawn Thornton responded by beating Cooke in a fight later in the season.

However, during this season a player on the very same team hit that very same player without a response from the Bruins. Thornton defended Savard after Cooke elbowed him, but would not do the same for Savard when Deryk Engelland drove his face and head straight into the boards.

This could possibly be due to the fact that Pittsburgh was a much tougher team than they were in the 2009-2010 season, and that Deryk Engelland is one of the best fighters in the league.

While it's unclear what exactly the criteria is that causes the Boston Bruins to respond to a hit, with Horton laying motionless on the ice and their fans calling for blood, something should be done to serve physical justice to Rome for his hard hit, despite the fact that the damage he did was likely entirely unintentional.

They are undoubtedly a tougher team than the Canucks and should have no problem taking care of the matter. It's a simple respect factor that the Bruins need to establish. If they send a clear message to Vancouver that they were unhappy with the hit, the Canucks will think twice about applying heavy hits for the rest of the series.

A Boston response would satisfy the fanbase and give their players a reinforced feeling of safety on the ice. If the Bruins further utilize their superior size and toughness, it would also create an advantage in the game for them. An intimidated Vancouver team would be wary to apply hits, allowing Boston more space on the ice.

If games four or five  enter the last ten minutes of the third period with a lead of four or more goals for either team, keep your eyes open. Things could get interesting.

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