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The Globe and Mail

NHL has heard from no clubs over Air Canada sponsorship concerns

Air Canada logo is part of the centre ice design in the Toronto Maple Leafs arena, the Air Canada Centre.

J.P. Moczulski/J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail

The National Hockey League says it has not heard from its clubs regarding Air Canada's reported pledge to reconsider their sponsorship role with the league in the wake of the latest on-ice incident.

Asked for reaction to the report, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Globe and Mail via e-mail: "We have not heard that from any of our clubs."

According to the QMI agency, an Air Canada spokesman sent a letter to all six Canadian NHL clubs expressing concern about a spate of recent dangerous on-ice incidents, in particular a check by the Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara that has left Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty with a fractured vertebrae and a severe concussion.

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was also copied on the letter: "That letter was received yesterday before any determination had been made with respect to the Chara incident," Daly said.

Chara was not suspended for the hit, in which he pushed Pacioretty face-first into a steel stanchion by the player benches at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

"The rationale for the league's decision was released publicly yesterday," Daly said. "We have nothing further to say about the matter."

The NHL's vice-president of hockey operations ruled the hit a "hockey play" in explaining why no action was taken against Chara, one of the league's top defencemen.

But Air Canada wants the league to do more, according to published reports: "We are contacting you [Wednesday]to voice our concern over [Tuesday night's]incident involving Max Pacioretty and Zdeno Chara at the Bell Centre in Montreal," wrote Denis Vandal, Air Canada's director of marketing and communications. "This is following several other incidents involving career-threatening and life-threatening headshots in the NHL recently."

"From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it is becoming increasingly difficult to associate our brand with sports events which could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents; action must be taken by the NHL before we are encountered with a fatality.

"Unless the NHL takes immediate action with serious suspension to the players in question to curtail these life-threatening injuries, Air Canada will withdraw its sponsorship of hockey."

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Not only does Air Canada own the naming rights to Toronto's Air Canada Centre, it's believed they're a major corporate sponsor behind all six Canadian teams. Air Canada's head office is also located in Montreal.

"As a strong supporter and sponsor of NHL Hockey in Canada and several U.S. cities, Air Canada is very concerned with the state of hockey today," Vandal noted.

"While we support countless sports, arts and community events, we are having difficulty rationalizing our sponsorship of hockey unless the NHL takes responsibility to protect both the players and the integrity of the game."

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