It looked terrible on television, and there were initially fears that the consequences could be horrific, but less than 48 hours after absorbing a devastating hit from Boston's Zdeno Chara, Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty has been discharged from Montreal's General Hospital.
He suffered a cervical fracture and severe concussion on the play - his head rammed into a stanchion near the players' benches - and will be out of action indefinitely.
Pacioretty was released from hospital Thursday and was resting at home, according to his agent. He is expected to be out indefinitely.
"I sincerely appreciate all of the support that I have received since my injury," Pacioretty said in a statement. "I was disappointed that the NHL did not suspend Zdeno Chara. However, I have no desire for him to prosecuted legally. I feel that the incident, as ugly as it was, was part of a hockey game.
"I understand that this is not my decision. I have respect and admiration for the authorities in Quebec. I simply wanted to make my opinion clear."
In a day featuring a steady stream of surprising twists and developments, the Habs ownership struck out at the league's decision not to suspend Chara, the NHL Players Association vowed to inspect the league's arenas for safety, the police said they are investigating, and the Prime Minister of Canada weighed in on the issue for good measure.
The Canadiens are an organization that prefers to act behind the scenes rather than take strident public stands, but the fall-out from the brutal hit on Pacioretty has changed that.
Habs chairman and owner Geoff Molson issued a letter to fans on Thursday afternoon in which he used uncharacteristically blunt language to express the organization's disgust with the NHL's decision not to suspend Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara
"I share your frustration, disappointment and shock," Molson wrote.
Team owners seldom speak out against the league, but the Canadiens have followed the lead of Pittsburgh Penguins' Mario Lemieux, who lashed out over the decision not to mete out further discipline against a pair of players who hit Pens superstar Sidney Crosby in the head in January.
Crosby, the game's pre-eminent player, has been out with a concussion for nearly two months, it's not known when he will return.
Molson termed the NHL's ruling, which found that Chara's shove of Pacioretty into a stanchion between the players' benches justified no further sanction "a hard blow for both the players and fans of the Montreal Canadiens.
"It was one which shook the faith that we, as a community, have in this sport that we hold in such high regard. The Montreal Canadiens organization does not agree with the decision taken yesterday by the National Hockey League," he said. "We can assure you that we have made our position clear to Commissioner Gary Bettman, and that he has agreed to make this issue a priority at the next General Manager's meeting, which will be held in Florida on March 14-16."
Molson continued on to say he wants the league to focus more forcefully on player safety and that he is willing to spearhead a league-wide effort to improve it.
"I am asking for the support of the 29 other NHL owners, to address urgently this safety issue. And I am willing to play a leadership role in coordinating this group effort," he said.
Though Molson is a relative newcomer to the ownership ranks, his family has been involved in the NHL since the 1960s, and his words may carry further weight in that brewing giant MolsonCoors recently agreed to a rich new sponsorship deal with the NHL.
And it's clear that Molson is eager to act quickly.
"Our organization believes that the players' safety in hockey has become a major concern, and that this situation has reached a point of urgency," Molson wrote. "At risk are some of the greatest professional athletes in the world, our fan base and the health of our sport at all levels. Players' safety in hockey must become the ultimate priority and the situation must be addressed immediately.
"As a proud father of three hockey players, I want to help create a healthy and safe experience for them, and I certainly never want any family to go through what the Paciorettys are experiencing at this moment."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also offered Pacioretty and his family his best wishes.
"I think we're all concerned, and I hope the league is concerned, about the number of very serious injuries we've seen in recent times and I do think that is something that they're going to have to address," Harper said at a health care announcement in Toronto. "I'm not sure this is a role for politicians but it certainly is something that is of concern to all of us. Where we're concerned is we see a growing number of serious head and other injuries in kids' sports and that is something that we're particularly seized with taking action on and working with our provincial partners on. Because this phenomenon is not just at the top level: you are seeing a growing number of head and brain injuries in sports competitions at the child and amateur level and this is something that we are looking to address."
Harper continued on to say that "our focus is really on how this affects children and ordinary people who play these sports.
"We are seeing a growing incidence of very serious injuries like this . . . obviously I just say this as a hockey fan . . . I'm very concerned about the growing number of very serious injuries, and in some cases to some of the premier players in the game. I don't think that's good for the game, and I think the league's got to take a very serious look at that for its own sake."
A statement issued by NHLPA head Donald Fehr, meanwhile, reiterated the seriousness with which the union views the Pacioretty incident, and promised an investigation of safety procedures in Montreal and other NHL cities.
"Player safety has always been, and continues to be, a great concern to the Players' Association. In that regard, issues involving the boards and glass in NHL arenas have been a longstanding focus for the players. The serious nature of the injury suffered by Max Pacioretty in Montreal this week reinforces the importance of maximizing the safety in this area and highlights the need to look further into the matter. We will be inspecting the rink in Montreal, and elsewhere as needed, to make sure the appropriate padding is in place. We will continue to gather feedback from the membership, to ensure the safest possible work environment for our players."
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