There is a soon-to-be two-year-old boy in our house and on most mornings the first word that spills out of his mouth, generally at top, insistent volume is: hockey.
It's typically followed by a mad run to the living room and an extended finger in the direction of the television.
And when his parents are feeling particularly bleary-eyed - so almost every day, then - he is allowed to watch a few PVR'ed highlights of the previous night's game.
Not today. Not after that game.
The enduring image, which everyone has seen by now, is of Max Pacioretty splayed on the ice and the coaches, trainers and players on the Canadiens bench standing, eyes locked on their stricken teammate (or in the case of a P.K. Subban and Paul Mara, turned up the ice toward the man who felled him).
Pacioretty escaped, if you can say that, with a non-displaced fracture in one of his neck vertebrae and what the team is calling a "severe" concussion; they didn't say it, but it seems clear his breakout season is over - yet in this case the cliché is true, it could have been far worse.
Here's the problem: how do you explain to a little kid that this kind of thing can happen among grown men, supposed professionals? That in the great scheme of things, it wasn't an especially dirty play - in fact, my boy, exactly seven years ago something far worse happened - and that the big man who did it is being excused by the people who cover and comment on the game for not having any malicious intent?
How do you explain that in this beautiful, rugged sport, it's okay to target opposition players for vicious treatment, and that there's nothing unusual or unseemly about a player getting hurt while more or less completely defenceless?
That there is no respect, there is no empathy, there is never any erring on the side of caution, under any circumstance.
This is not to say that Zdeno Chara is an evil man, or that he should be banned for life for what he did (my guess is there won't be anything more than a short suspension if there's any suspension at all).
He's just a product of the game, nothing more, nothing less.
Here are some facts:
- The puck was long gone.
- Chara's left arm comes up as Pacioretty is guided first into the boards, then into the stanchion between the benches.
- Chara's head is up as he engages with Pacioretty.
- Chara had attacked Pacioretty in the last meeting between the teams, still aggrieved at the supreme insult of the 22-year-old giving him an innocuous shove in the back after scoring the overtime winner in a game in December.
The point is there is no excuse for what Chara did.
He knew where he was on the ice, he could have let Pacioretty go by, he could have hooked him, grabbed him, could have let up on the contact. He is responsible for his actions.
But the hell of it is, he doesn't likely need an excuse.
It will almost surely be enough for him to say he never intended to injure Pacioretty, and his reputation as a cruel-but-fair behemoth - he just doesn't know his strength! - will afford him plenty of defenders on television and elsewhere.
The nuance here is that he may not have meant to injure an opponent, but he did mean to hurt him - that's what this game has become, or maybe what it's always been.
In an admirable show of candour, the Canadiens' Ryan White admitted after the game that he would certainly have smashed Chara or any other Bruin into the "turnbuckle" under identical circumstances.
Now try explaining all of this to a little boy who can't walk past the local park without shedding tears if he isn't allowed to watch the bigger kids play shinny.
Who constantly marches around the house with a miniature plastic hockey stick, whacking away at a road hockey ball.
Is there any cricket on TV this morning?
Junior, can you say cricket?