S.M. Williams, San Francisco, Calif.
Blackhawks defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson may wish he had been suspended longer. Following his reckless boarding of the Sabres’ Jason Pominville Oct. 11, the NHL handed down a two-game suspension, which will make his next game back against…you got it, the Sabres.
I don’t think this was an accident by the NHL disciplinarians. How much is that NHL Center Ice Package again? Whether or not the hit was dirty or intentional is a topic best left for the sports radio crowd and others who will use this as just another bullet point in their “Concussions Bad” or “Hockey Violent” PowerPoint presentations.
Thankfully, Pominville is not stretched out in some Buffalo area hospital bed in traction and equally important in the cosmic sense, Hjalmarsson will get his chance to back up just how tough a guy he is on Saturday night at the United Center.
Only this time, the players will actually get to see him coming. No other sport polices its’ own the way that hockey does and in an age of toothless fines to millionaires and notes to go to the commissioner’s office for a hearty scolding, it’s nice to see a sport that offers a real deterrent.
If war can be seen as the ultimate failure of politics and negotiation, then maybe a black eye and busted lip will make one think the next time they plow into somebody’s back, mash their face against the glass and play coin-flip with their career.
Whether or not Hjalmarsson gets himself rag-dolled Saturday night by some freshly minted goon up from St. God-knows-where-ville, who doesn’t even report to the ice with a stick, no one knows.
The point for Hjalmarsson is that there will be no safe haven Saturday night, no absolution through pocket change and none through a few platitudes like “I really didn’t mean to hurt Jason” or “it’s a fast game out there” to get him off the hook.
He’ll get to skate out on the ice with four other Blackhawks and face the music. His teammates will certainly have his back, but not to be his bodyguards, rather to ensure a fair fight. If honor is about confronting consequences, Hjalmarsson will be doing just that Saturday night for not only his own integrity, but for that of hockey itself and the protection of future players.