Hockey is a game of both beauty and ferocity, providing a sometimes near-perfect contradiction. It invokes a certain elegance when watching a spectacular finesse move, then moments later produces a moment of sheer brutality.
In last night's game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings, glimpses of both ends of the spectrum were on full display.
Henrik Zetterberg'sdeft touch on a perfect backhand shot that beat Philadelphia netminder Ilya Bryzgalovover the shoulder to the short side was one of those jaw-dropping moments where you just shake your head and appreciate the raw talent possessed by the elite-level players in the NHL. The space with which Zetterberg had to shoot was extremely limited, but he was able to hit it with pinpoint accuracy. It was yet another highlight reel-goal etched into the Swede's growing Hall-of-Fame resume'.
The other end of the scale also was well-represented, when Flyers' winger Jakub Voracekwas annihilated with a shoulder-to-head check by Red Wings' defenseman Niklas Kronwall about eight minutes into the second period.
Related: Video of Kronwall's huge hit on Voracek
Everyone who loves the game appreciates a good, clean hit, but the aftermath can often times be extremely tough to watch.
"I wanted to puke," said Danny Briere of his reaction to the hit. "When you see someone lay on the ice like that. I haven't seen the replay of the hit, I don't know if the hit was targeted (to the head), or if it was a clean check. It's still not fun to see when you're on the ice and you see someone laying there shaking. It was a bad feeling in everybody's stomach."
Peter Laviolette was obviously concerned for Voracek's well-being in his post-game press conference.
"I hope he's okay," the coach said of Voracek. "It was a tough hit, he took it right in the head. It was frustrating because he's having a terrific year for us and it's substantial when you're battling through a lot of injuries and you're dealing with it and you take a hit like that. It's tough and you hope he's alright and you hope he bounces back quick."
Like many NHL teams, Laviolette's squad has had to deal with their share of injuries. Concussions have been one of the main maladies suffered by the Orange-and-Black, with a lengthy laundry list of players either having been on the shelf or still remaining out of the lineup from injuries to the head:
- Ian Laperriere (Long-Term Injured Reserve due to post-concussion syndrome, playing career over)
- Captain Chris Pronger(LTIR due to post-concussion syndrome, likely out for remainder of regular season and playoffs. Future playing career in doubt)
- Claude Giroux (missed four games due to concussion)
- James van Riemsdyk (missed 15 games due to concussion)
- Briere (missed six games due to concussion)
- Brayden Schenn (missed nine games due to concussion)
- Matt Read (missed three games due to an "upper-body injury", which was never officially called a concussion)
- Sean Couturier (missed four games due to a "head injury", which was never officially termed a concussion). have all missed time due to trauma to the head this season.
When asked if he felt the hit was clean or borderline, Laviolette seemed as confused as everyone else regarding the direction the League is taking...or maybe better said, not taking...to protect its players.
"The game happens so fast out there," he said. It's a defenseman stepping up on a forward. It was hard to tell, when you go back and look at it, it was clearly the head, which is tough. That's the area that's supposed to be safer this year and he got popped right on it."
Detroit coach Mike Babcock saw it as a good hit.
"Well, the only thing I would say on this is that no one wants anyone to get hurt, that's not the idea at all," the Wings' bench boss said. "But 'Kronner' (Kronwall) is a competitive guy, he's out there playing hard and I didn't think he did anything wrong. He doesn't want anyone to get hurt, I don't want anyone to get hurt, but the last time we played them, we got Briere, this time Voracek. Those are tough hits. That's all part of hockey, too."
It is more than probable that when NHL head of discipline Brendan Shanahan takes a look at the Kronwall hit on Voracek, no suspension or fine will be levied. That's because the not so fine line drawn with the ambiguity of how the Rule is crafted leaves a great deal of interpretation.
- 48.1 Illegal Check to the Head– "A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was avoidable, can be considered." (Taken from CBA
It was a situation much like the latest Pittsburgh Penguinsskater to suffer a head injury. The Pens are a team all-too familiar with the concussion issue, as well, and last Wednesday, defenseman Kris Letang, who was concussed earlier in the season, was clipped in the face by the shoulder of Dallas Stars' forward Eric Nystrom. Letang was similarly in a prone position, reaching for the puck with his head down, when the impact occurred.
No suspension or fine was given to Nystrom.
In last night's incident, by turning towards Kronwall as he had his head down while skating at a decent rate of speed, Voracek did put himself into an extremely vulnerable position. There is no arguing that point. Kronwall led with his shoulder, and the unfortunate result came with Voracek's face being struck with the force of being hit by a moving vehicle.
What is a potential point of contention and somewhat disturbing is the lifting motion Kronwall employs as he drives through Voracek's head. Even at the high rate of speed each was moving and the quickness to which the play developed, it had to be obvious to Kronwall that Voracek, who was totally unsuspecting that there was any danger approaching, would be in a bad spot.
This aspect can be viewed much the same way when a player has his back to the boards and an approaching opponent is expected to let up, instead of using his full force to drive the player face-first into the glass. We have heard Shanahan on many of his suspension videos in the past refer to this expectation.
Kronwall did nothing to hold up when he saw he had his prey lined up and totally unwitting, and even said he "took a strike forward".
With the epidemic of concussions around the entire League, Rule 48 was implemented to protect the players and promote a safer environment. As one of the faces of the NHL, Sidney Crosby, again inches closer to another return from his bout with post-concussion syndrome, the League is no closer to a remedy for one of its biggest problems.
There is a multitude of grey areas associated with the laws surrounding "illegal checks to the head", and it seems a rare situation where any player will not have been deemed to have placed himself in a vulnerable position when injured. The Letang and Voracek hits are proof-positive of that fact.
These hits will still be regarded as 'good hockey hits', and Kronwall will likely leave a trail of bodies in his wake the likes of which has not been seen since New Jersey Devils rear guard Scott Stevens was ironically forced to retire from the game with a concussion of his own.
It seems without further clarification and player education, the wheels of progress regarding the issue will be stuck in a perpetual spin cycle, as numerous players continue to fall prey to the affliction.
And the black cloud that hangs over the game as a result just accentuates the unnecessary result of what amounts to a sometimes necessary brutality.