MONTREAL – Montreal Canadiens chairman Geoff Molson has asked his fellow NHL team owners to join him in taking steps against violence in hockey.
In an unprecedented letter to fans released Thursday, the head of the team’s ownership group said the Canadiens do not agree with the NHL’s decision not to suspend Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara for a hit that left Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty seriously injured.
He said commissioner Gary Bettman had agreed ”to make this issue a priority” at an NHL general managers meeting next week in Boca Raton, Fla.
”We understand and appreciate hockey being a physical sport, but we do not accept any violent behaviour that will put the players’ health and safety at risk,” Molson wrote. “On this specific issue, I am asking for the support of the 29 other NHL owners to address urgently this safety issue. And I am willing to play a leadership role in co-ordinating this group effort.”
The 22-year-old Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and a fracture to the fourth cervical vertebra in his neck when a Charra hit slammed him into the partition between the players’ benches in Montreal’s 4-1 victory at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night.
Pacioretty was released from hospital Thursday and was resting at home, according to his agent. He is expected to be out indefinitely.
“I sincerely appreciate all of the support that I have received since my injury,” Pacioretty said in a statement. “I was disappointed that the NHL did not suspend Zdeno Chara. However, I have no desire for him to prosecuted legally. I feel that the incident, as ugly as it was, was part of a hockey game.
”I understand that this is not my decision. I have respect and admiration for the authorities in Quebec. I simply wanted to make my opinion clear.”
Many others were shocked that the NHL did not suspend Chara, who was given a major penalty for interference and a game misconduct on the play.
”I share your frustration, disappointment and shock,” Molson said. “”I feel for Max, the team and you, our fans.”
He called the league’s decision ”a hard blow for both the players and fans of the Montreal Canadiens. It was one which shook the faith that we, as a community, have in this sport that we hold in such high regard.”
Montreal police are investigating whether there are grounds for a criminal charge and a fan protest is planned for the team’s next home game next week.
Pacioretty told TSN on Wednesday night he was ”upset and disgusted” that the NHL did not suspend the six-foot-nine Bruins defenceman, who has no history of league discipline.
”I felt he did mean to do it,” said Pacioretty. ”I believe he was trying to guide my head into the turnbuckle.”
When asked about Pacioretty’s statements in Boston, Chara told the team’s website: “I totally understand.
“I obviously feel bad that he got hurt. As a player, and as a hockey player, we all feel bad when something like that happens…and obviously, I’m wishing him a fast recovery and hopefully he can be back on the ice soon.
“That’s all we love to do—we love to play hockey. And, obviously, we go out there, we take risks and sometimes we get hurt. It’s just very unfortunate. It was just a hockey play that developed. I know deep down I didn’t do it intentionally.”
Chara said he wasn’t even aware of who he was hitting. He said he chasing a puck out of the Boston zone when it happened.
“I had no idea he was on the ice. I had no idea it was him,” he said.
When asked about the police investigation, Chara said: ”I got some media information on that this morning, but like I said, right now, I’m focusing on playing my game and playing hockey.”
The Canadiens players also felt Chara should have had supplemental discipline.
Coach Jacques Martin said from St. Louis on the team’s website that he was ”not pleased” but was leaving it to Gauthier deal with the league.
”We have to focus on our game,” said Martin before the Canadiens took on the Blues.
”We had a meeting and informed the team of the situation and the status of Max. Basically, he’s still recovering and our mandate is to focus on the game that we’ve got coming. Hopefully next week, they’ll be in better spirits.”
The team reported that more than 8,000 fans had used a link on its website to send get-well messages to Pacioretty.
When asked for his take on the hit, Martin said: ”With the speed of the game, players increasing the fitness level, there just seems to be more casualties.”
Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said the players were ”obviously in disagreement” with the league.
”It’s tough when that happens to one of your guys and nothing comes of it,” he said. ”But there’s nothing you can do about it.”
”He’s a teammate and a close friend and, at the end of the day he’s got a broken neck,” said rookie defenceman P.K. Subban. ”Everyone was waiting to see what happened, but as far as that goes, there’s nothing we can do.
”We have to move forward as a team. We just want Patch to have a speedy recovery. We know it’s a tough time for his whole family.”
Pacioretty was the team’s goal-scoring leader in 2011 with 12 goals scored since Jan. 1. He has 14 goals and 10 assists in 37 games since he was called up from AHL Hamilton on Dec. 15.