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James Mirtle

Team Canada suspension draws mixed reviews Add to ...

At first, there seemed to only be cheers when Zack Kassian thumped Petr Senkerik in the neutral zone on Tuesday, as the red and white throng at HSBC Arena celebrated "a hockey hit" by one of their own at the world junior tournament.

Soon, those cheers turned to outrage, however, as the Canadian player was tossed from the game, the Czech one wheeled off on a stretcher, and the pundits - amateur and professional alike - began to dissect the German and Finnish referees' call.

Was it the right one? Too harsh? Too lenient?

In the end, as it often does, it came down to one man. In this case, it fell to former NHL official Dan Marouelli to weigh the evidence, watch the replays and render a verdict which forced Kassian to not only sit out Wednesday's game against Norway but Friday's critical contest against Sweden as well.

The two-game suspension - one of three head-shot related suspensions Marouelli handed down Wednesday - is one that may not have been made a decade ago, but this is clearly a different climate and different rules apply when it comes to such hits.

No longer is the type of blow Scott Stevens made famous always acceptable - especially in international play - as leagues and governing bodies continue crack down on concussion-causing collisions.

Sensitive to the controversy surrounding the decision, the International Ice Hockey Federation issued a detailed statement Wednesday outlining all three decisions, with the Kassian ruling conveniently at the top.

"In making his assessment, Marouelli analyzed the play on DVD from every available angle," the statement said. "As well, he examined the medial reports, discussed the play with on-ice officials, and met with the referee supervisor.

"The IIHF has very specific rules regarding dangerous hits. These are not limited just to the head but to the neck area as well, which is defined by that part of the body above the collarbone and shoulder pads."

Incensed by Kassian's game misconduct when the call was made on the ice, Canada head coach Dave Cameron said his team would simply have to accept the decision.

"There's a protocol in place," he said. "We're going to live and die by it. It is what it is. Any time you lose one of your better players, you lose a little bit of your depth. He played a big part on the power play. Those are probably the two areas most affected."

Kassian, the team's biggest forward at 6 foot 3 and 225 pounds, is no stranger to these types of calls, as the OHL threw the book at him with a 20-game suspension last January for a violent open-ice head hit on Barrie Colts forward Matt Kennedy.

It was a play far, far further over the line than Kassian's late, high hit on Senkerik, but with different rules in different leagues, there seems to be little consensus in the hockey world just where exactly that line is - and where it should be.

Cameron said Wednesday he didn't feel there was any confusion among his players about the tournament's rules relating to head shots - despite the fact they appear to be ever evolving.

"We talked a bit," he said. "I don't think the rules here are really any different than what we do, certainly in the OHL. A head shot is not allowed. We talked about being physical without taking penalties - I thought we did a real good job of that.

"We can't back off the physical play."

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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