BUFFALO, N.Y. – A day after watching teammate Jason Pominville carted off the ice on a stretcher, Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller urged the NHL on Tuesday to “change the culture” and send a message that blind-side hits are not acceptable.
Barely able to contain his anger, Miller described Niklas Hjalmarsson’s hit as a “dumb hockey play.” He said it made no difference whether the Chicago Blackhawks defenceman said it wasn’t his intention to hurt anyone.
The Vezina Trophy-winning goalie said Hjalmarsson should be severely punished if the league wants to show it’s serious in outlawing hits on defenceless players.
“You can’t have a hit like that, it’s dangerous,” Miller said after practice. “I’m glad he admitted he didn’t mean to do it. But you’ve got to change the culture some time, and I hope the league wakes up and sets a precedent for the year.”
Miller said “something’s got to be done” and encouraged reporters to quote him because he felt it’s the only way to “hold the league accountable.”
Hjalmarsson drew a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for checking Pominville from behind and into the boards late in the first period of Chicago’s 4-3 victory.
The NHL held a hearing with Hjalmarsson on Tuesday to determine whether further punishment is warranted. The league said a decision will be announced before the Blackhawks host Nashville on Wednesday.
Pominville is out indefinitely and was resting at home Tuesday after still experiencing concussion symptoms.
He’s a top-line and versatile forward, who plays on both power-play and penalty-killing units, but had yet to register a point in three games this season.
The Sabres host New Jersey on Wednesday, beginning a stretch of three games in four nights that ends in Chicago. Sabres agitator Patrick Kaleta was quick to note that the two teams will meet again this weekend.
“I think it’ll get taken care of either with the league or, I think, when we play them Saturday,” he said. “We’ll make a point that you can’t be taking hits like that against one of our leaders.”
Pominville was injured after skating backward along the sideboard in the Sabres end, waiting for the puck to reach him. Hjalmarsson hit him just behind the right shoulder. Pominville was sent face-first into the boards and crumpled to the ice.
He was carted off after a 15-minute delay, giving a thumbs-up sign to the quieted arena. Pominville spent the rest of the game being treated and monitored inside the building. He needed seven to eight stitches to close a gash over his eye.
Hjalmarsson said the play developed quickly.
“My intention wasn’t to hurt him,” he said after the game. “You never want to see someone laying on the ice like that.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville questioned whether Hjalmarsson deserved a penalty because the defenceman wasn’t looking at Pominville but rather playing the puck.
Miller wasn’t surprised by Quenneville’s comments, and said that’s why the NHL needs to act.
“Something we need to get away from in hockey right now, is the culture of, ‘I was trying to make a play, therefore it’s not my fault,'” Miller said. “I just think more people should be a little bit more outraged.”
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was upset with the hit, but will not say whether Hjalmarsson should be further punished.
“You can’t lose good players to hits like this,” Ruff said. “In the past, I might have flipped out and started screaming and yelling. But I’m going to let the league deal with it. And I think the hits do need to be dealt with.”