Such glorious opportunity.
Let us hope the NHL does not pass this one up – as the league has unfortunately done so often in the past.
At the 5 minute 49 second mark of the third period in a Wednesday game between the visiting Bruins and the Buffalo Sabres, with Boston winning 4-2, Sabres enforcer John Scott is sent onto the ice.
Scott, a 6-foot-8, 270-pound giant with no discernible hockey skills, comes “out of the clouds” – as they might say in a real war – to take direct aim at the head of an unsuspecting Loui Eriksson, who has already moved the puck up the ice.
Eriksson, no surprise, has to be helped off the ice following the ugly hit. He is kept overnight in Buffalo as a precautionary measure.
Scott is punished with a match penalty and a fighting major. The fight is not against Eriksson, who was busy fighting unconsciousness, but against Boston defenceman Adam McQuaid. McQuaid is given a fighting major, a game misconduct and a two-minute penalty for being the instigator.
In other words, Boston not only loses the injured Eriksson but ends up being more penalized for the incident than the Sabres.
Fascinating math. Bizarre justice.
The incident, so familiar in recent years, caused more than the usual outrage.
NBC hockey commentator Mike Milbury – once a player who waded, in full equipment, into a crowd to pound a fan with his own shoe – called not only for the expulsion of Scott from the NHL but for Sabres head coach Ron Rolston to be fired.
“I don’t know what he’s doing in this league,” Milbury said of Scott. “I believe players who play in this league have to be able to skate and pass, and not simply ignite a fight.”
Scott, Milbury declared, is simply a “predator” sent out to “seek and destroy” by Rolston.
“He’s way over his head,” Milbury said of the Buffalo coach. “In fact, he’s drowning. It’s a bush-league play by a coach that doesn’t know any better.”
Another NBC commentator, Pierre McGuire, who was stationed between the benches during the game, was equally put off. Speaking on Ottawa’s Team 1200 all-sports radio channel the next morning, McGuire called Scott “a mayhem-maker” and added that, given Scott has all of one career goal in nearly 200 NHL games, “he shouldn’t even be in the league.”
Scott was suspended indefinitely Thursday, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also upheld the 10-day suspension recently handed down by league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan to Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta for another head shot.
Buffalo’s race to embrace thuggery, coincidentally, is directly tied to a two-year-old assault on goaltender Ryan Miller by Boston forward Milan Lucic, who received but a minor penalty for deliberately running over Miller and was given no subsequent suspension.
It is unlikely Scott can hope for the same leniency, despite having no history of supplementary punishment by league. The hockey world seems to be at least partly coming to its senses over such senseless attacks.
Anaheim Ducks winger Teemu Selanne, the NHL’s elder statesman at 43 and perhaps the most widely respected player in today’s game, said in Montreal the suspensions handed out to the likes of Kaleta are inadequate.
“I don’t think they’re enough,” Selanne told reporters. “The next night, the same thing happens.”
Surprisingly, Selanne added players have been talking about themselves about the need for suspensions to move to “a big one so guys can’t afford to do that,” as well as the possibility of the teams, coaches and even owners being fined for such transgressions.
“The bottom line is, there’s no option – we’ve got to do it.”
Rather ironically, it is a half-dozen years since then-Sabres owner Thomas Golisano demanded the league “immediately” bring a firm end to hits to the head. Since then, Buffalo has acquired a new owner, hired new goons, taken on a new coach and is, tellingly, boasting a shameful 1-9-1 record.
As well, early evidence suggests concussions are on the rise this season. Such skilled players as Rick Nash (New York Rangers), Daniel Brière (Montreal Canadiens), Dan Boyle (San Jose Sharks) and Dustin Penner (Ducks) are on the list of those downed by a concussion.
It is a dozen years since American star Mike Modano posed his question on the cover of The Hockey News – “Do we have to wait for someone to be killed or paralyzed?” – and the rising hope is that, no, we do not have to wait.
This is the NHL’s perfect opportunity.
“I get frustrated when people say I’m a goon and this and that,” Scott said in Buffalo, “I have a role. I do.”
Indeed, he may have an important role.
To stand as a symbol of when the NHL finally decides to crack the whip as hard as is obviously required.
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