Much like the controversial line that Mark Scheifele took in skating toward his opponent on Wednesday night, the Winnipeg Jets centre was direct and abrupt in calling his four-game suspension “excessive” in a media call Friday. But it wasn’t just the punishment for the injurious hit on Montreal Canadiens forward Jake Evans that fell under that description.
Although the Jets alternate captain said he was “shocked” by the length of the first suspension of his NHL career – handed down Thursday night – he also discussed the online abuse that members of his family have received. He said that his parents and siblings have been targeted by online bullying and phone calls since the Jets’ 5-3 loss to the Canadiens in the opening game of their playoff series.
“I can handle the criticism. I got suspended four games, I got held accountable,” Scheifele said. “But there’s no right to go after my parents, to go after my loved ones. That’s completely unacceptable, but that’s our society nowadays.”
Scheifele ran afoul of the NHL’s department of player safety in the final minutes of Game 1 of the North Division final. With the Jets trailing by a goal and Evans attempting to complete a wraparound into the empty net to seal a Canadiens win, the Winnipeg forward skated almost the full length of the ice before throwing a hard bodycheck that left his Montreal opponent motionless on the ice.
Evans was taken off the ice on a stretcher, has since been diagnosed with a concussion and is out indefinitely. Scheifele was assessed a charging major and a game misconduct on the play.
The Jets forward – who led his team in scoring during the regular season, before registering five points in five playoff games – ruled out appealing the suspension on Friday, saying he didn’t want to be any more of a distraction to his team. “This has lingered on long enough,” he said.
Trailing 1-0 in the series, Winnipeg will now need to extend the series to at least a sixth game if Scheifele is to play any further part against Montreal. If the Canadiens sweep the Jets, he would serve the final game of his suspension at the start of next season.
Scheifele said he had reached out to a number of the Habs players – he is close with former Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot as well as Brendan Gallagher – and said that Evans’s health is the No. 1 consideration at this point.
On the play itself, Scheifele said his only thought was to cut Evans off as he came around the post to prevent a goal and get play going the other way, with the Jets chasing the tying goal they would need to force overtime.
He noted that he had just 12 penalty minutes the entire season and up until Wednesday hadn’t had a boarding penalty in his almost 600-game NHL career.
His head coach, Paul Maurice, backed that up, saying that in Winnipeg’s four-game sweep of Edmonton in the first round, Scheifele had had just three hits. He was credited with two more on Wednesday.
“He’s not a guy that runs around the ice and bad things happen; he’s aware,” Maurice said. “So it’s unfortunate, we’re going to lose arguably our best forward for four critical playoff games and we’re paying a huge price.”
Just like his star centre, Maurice said he felt that the length of suspension was excessive, and he was similarly surprised, having expected it to be for two games.
But Maurice, who had called the hit “clean” on Thursday, said he disagreed that the distance of the ice that Scheifele travelled before delivering the hit should have had any bearing on the suspension.
“I don’t agree with the distance-travelled argument because there’s no other option in that distance travelled,” he said.
But if that’s now the standard for a suspendible hit, and that prevents more players from getting injured, Maurice says he and everyone else in the NHL will learn from it.
“The department of player safety has every right, and they’re needed in their role, to set precedent for hits, especially when there’s an injury involved,” he said.
“I don’t agree with it, but it’s set now and that’s where the National Hockey League game goes going forward. And we’ll learn from it and move on.”
Game 2 story on our website: globesports.com