Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Hit!

The talk shows are full of venom, the dressing room steeped in revenge. Clear cutting of forests has been ordered to fill the sports pages, as the debate rages on. Was that a dirty hit or did Mats Naslund get caught with his head down.

The hit in question, was part of Monday's Canucks/Avalanche game in Denver. With less than two minutes to go in the second period, Mats Naslund was crushed to the ice near the centre circle, after a hit by Avalanche rookie Steve Moore. The referees made no call on the play, incensing the Canucks bench as they headed into the second intermission. As a matter of fact the Canuck's ended up with a penalty on the play when Brad May took offense to the hit.

After the game Brian Burke has described it as a cheap shot taken by a marginal player. Marc Crawford expressed disbelief at the wanton disregard the referees have for the leagues star players.

Various Canucks vowed revenge the next time the Canucks and Avalanche match up, the date to circle by the way is March 3rd, again in Denver. Burke warned his players not to get carried away with the verbal threats. Trying to keep his team focused on the job at hand, collecting some wins and catching the Avs for first overall in their division. A task they'll have to do without Naslund for at least a week, this was his first ever concussion and he took 13 stitches to close the cut on his nose. He will sit out for a week, then do some light exercises to see how he has progressed. By a strange twist of fate, that March 3rd game could end up being his first game back in a Canuck uniform.

As for the hit, while it may not have been pre-meditated, it certainly bordered on the verge of dirty. But that really wasn't anything unusual in this game, which featured a number of cheap shots and ugly stick work from both teams. Countless replays later you have to decide if Moore leaned in with his elbow, or caught Naslund with his shoulder. Can't say for myself one way or the other, though it did appear that Moore leaned down so as to exert maximum force, no replay I saw gave a clear shot of an elbow, but that much damage had to be caused by something.

The surprising aspect of the hit, was indeed the non call. There were many options available to a referee here, elbowing, interference, roughing, obstruction, intent to injure, pick one or two if you wish. No explanation was given as to the missed call, whether the refs believed it was a clean hit, or if they just missed the play. But with four officials on the ice, you have to wonder how so many infractions like these get missed. It also brings up the issue of how the star players are being treated in the NHL these days, Crawford is partially correct, when he says the league has left it's stars out to fend for themselves. Far too many NHL entertainers have been sidelined by marginal hits or unprovoked attacks. Even the Denver media can agree on that point, while they probably won't turn on their Av's, they too worry about their stars.

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