TORONTO – News that Montreal police have opened a criminal investigation into Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty hasn’t seemed to deter the men who play the game for a living.
“Well, there’s always some prosecutors who would like to get their names in the papers, is what I’m thinking,” Flyers defenceman Sean O’Donnell said before facing the Maple Leafs Thursday.
I don’t know. I understand some people looking at what happened (in) the unfortunate case of Steve Moore, and the unfortunate case of (Donald) Brashear. But this is a bang-bang play.
“There was no stick brought up, there was no punch—I don’t think there’s a lot of ground for those guys to stand on.”
O’Donnell, who has appeared in more than 1,100 career NHL games, has seen many such incidents come and go over the years. He thinks this particular play received more attention because of where it occurred.
“We’re in the bubble of hockey,” he said. “When you have it in a place like Montreal, like Canada, these people love (the sport) like a religion.”
Chara’s hit on Pacioretty was still a major talking point in dressing rooms around the league two days after it happened—just like it was among hockey fans.
However, some of the discussion for players was about what they perceived to be an overreaction from the public. None seemed bothered by Air Canada’s threat to step down as a league partner over the injury issue and none were worried about police starting to wade further into the sport.
“You never think about things that could happen outside the game,” said Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn, one of the NHL leaders in hits. “I think the first thing is, you never try to injure a guy. You try to finish your checks and try to play guys hard, but there’s no way you ever mean to injure a guy.
“You hope that nothing would ever come of it … like criminal charges or anything like that.”
Several players noted that there hasn’t been a noticeable change in the way the sport is policed since the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident from March 2004.
In addition to receiving an indefinite suspension from the NHL, Bertuzzi was charged with assault causing bodily harm in B.C. and accepted a plea bargain that saw him perform community service and be put on probation for a year.
A trial for a separate lawsuit filed by Moore is expected to be held next year.
For the most part, players seem to accept that there is danger inherent in their sport.
“Obviously, we play a physical and violent game,” said Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek. “Things like this do happen. No one likes to see guys get carried off on stretchers, it’s not what our game’s about, but there’s risks involved in playing.
“It was a violent hit. If that same exact play happens on the other side of the ice where there’s no turnbuckle, he’s fine. Maybe he just gets a two-minute penalty call for interference.”