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The NHL came down hard on Calgary Flames defenceman Dennis Wideman for knocking down an official with a 20-game suspension Wednesday.

Wideman, who will also forfeit US$564,516 to the players' emergency assistance fund, is eligible to return to the lineup March 14.

During the second period of the Flames' 2-1 loss to Nashville on Jan. 27, Wideman was checked hard into the boards by Predators winger Miikka Salomak.

Wideman banged his stick on the ice en route to the players' benches and then shoved his stick into Henderson's back in front of the Predators' bench. Henderson went down, but got to his feet and was able to finish the game.

Wideman's explanation was he was in pain and was just trying to get off the ice, adding that he couldn't avoid Henderson.

"Throughout my career and I've been around for a few years, I think I've treated every official with the utmost respect and I would never intentionally try to hit a linesman or a ref or anything like that," Wideman said following the game.

No penalty was called. Wideman apologized to Henderson after the incident.

But the 32-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., was suspended indefinitely the following day. He was summoned to Toronto for a hearing with the NHL's department of hockey operations Tuesday.

The NHL rulebook states "any player who deliberately strikes an official and causes injury or who deliberately applies physical force in any manner against an official with intent to injure, or who in any manner attempts to injure an official shall be automatically suspended for not less than 20 games.

"For the purpose of the rule, "intent to injure" shall mean any physical force which a player knew or should have known could reasonably be expected to cause injury."

A player deliberately applying physical force to an official "without intent to injure", is subject to a minimum 10-game suspension.

The Flames (21-24-3) were eight points out of a playoff berth in the Pacific Division and 11 back of a wild-card berth heading into Wednesday's game at home against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Wideman has two goals and 17 assists and is minus-9 in 48 games this season. The six-foot, 202-pound defenceman has averaged 21 minutes per game this season and ranks third on the team in blocked shots with 74.

The NHL announced Wideman's suspension after Calgary's pre-game skate Wednesday.

There was no immediate comment from the club, although the team had prepared for Wideman's absence by calling up Jakub Nakladal from their AHL affiliate in Stockton, Calif. The Flames signed the 28-year-old Czech as a free agent last year.