In the wake of Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s takedown of Elias Pettersson Thursday night in Montreal, the Vancouver Canucks were remarkably composed and calm. That did not change Saturday when, instead of being in the lineup against one of the best teams in the NHL, the league’s brightest young star had an appointment to get an MRI on his right knee.
As Canucks coach Travis Green pointed out, Pettersson was walking around the Scotiabank Arena and actually looked pretty good. “The sooner, the better,” Green said when asked when we might see Pettersson in the Canucks lineup again. When Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson body-slammed Pettersson in October and knocked him out of the lineup for six games with a concussion, the Canucks were livid, as they should have been. But it’s pretty clear the Canucks have come to the realization that their star player is going to have to get used to being abused. And Pettersson is probably coming to that realization, too.
It’s one of the most antiquated old-school aspects of the game – the one that states that because a player has been bestowed with more gifts and has worked harder to cultivate them – that he has to put up with abuse that will go unpunished. In retrospect, the Kotkaniemi takedown was not malicious. He did not intend to hurt Pettersson and he’s probably surprised he did in a play that looked so innocent. But we also know this. The play that resulted in Pettersson’s right knee buckling under him had nothing to do with being a hockey play. Absolutely nothing. No scoring chance thwarted, no battle for the puck. Nothing. If anything, it looked as though Kotkaniemi was upset that Pettersson had hit him behind the net. Who knows, this could have gone back to something that happened between the two in some obscure European tournament years ago, but we know it had nothing to do with the game itself.
But the hockey culture tells us that this is a byproduct of this kind of thinking and we all have to live with it. Even two days after the injury, Green was very matter-of-fact about the incident and seemed to willingly accept it.
“It irks me that he’s out and hurt,” Green said after the morning skate in preparation for facing the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night. “He’s an excellent player, but you have to remember excellent players have little hooks and holds and you try to take away time and space. Obviously I’m upset that he’s out of our lineup, but he’s going to get attention, he’s going to get little holds, little hooks, it happens to all the good players. If you ask ‘Petey’ he engaged in it. He pushed back on the player and that’s nothing different than all the top guys do. They all get into little plays and unfortunately, he got hurt from it.”
Green said there is no point making a big deal of it, precisely because it happens so often. And it happens so often because hockey allows it. There is no sport that allows its star players to receive the treatment they do. It’s something hockey fans have had to live with from time immemorial and no star player has been immune to it.
“You’re playing the game, you’re trying to win and that probably happens 30 to 40 times a game,” Green said. “And when I say 30 to 40 times a game, I don’t mean just (Pettersson). Watch the game. There are little hooks and holds that happen every play where there’s a stick on someone or someone is stepping in front of someone.”
The Canucks managed to go 3-3-0 in the six games Pettersson missed during his first injury, but the stakes are a little higher now. The Canucks find themselves in the thick of a playoff race, albeit one that might be a bit of a mirage because they’ve played 44 games, which is tied for most in the league to this point. But if the Canucks are going to stay there, they won’t be able to use Pettersson’s absence as an excuse, even for one game.
“We’re not coming here to lose,” Green said. “He’s one part of our team and he’s obviously a great player and we’ve got a challenge tonight. (The Maple Leafs) have got a lot of guys like ‘Petey’ in ways. We’re not here to lose. We’re here to win.”