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Via 'rails' at NHL; gov't-owned rail line, and league sponsor, blasts Chara move

MONTREAL - First it was Canada's largest airline. Now Canada's main passenger train line has railed against the NHL.

Via Rail has issued a scathing letter condemning the league's decision not to suspend Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.

The rail line—which is owned by the Government of Canada—says it's a proud sponsor of pro hockey.

But it calls the league decision on Chara's hit against Montreal's Max Pacioretty senseless.

It laid out its complaints in a terse letter Friday to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

"Via Rail is concerned, as are its customers, that the NHL seems unable to take appropriate measures to protect the physical integrity of its players," Via's general counsel, Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, wrote.

"In Via Rail’s opinion, the NHL’s quick and ineffective ruling on the Pacioretty/Chara incident of last Tuesday is totally unacceptable as it does nothing to try to reverse the alarming trend of vicious hits that have sidelined some of the game's greatest talents."

It urges the league to take action on violence when general managers meet next week in Florida.

The move follows a similar one from Air Canada—which threatened to pull its sponsorship.

But the airline's threat was dismissed by league commissioner Gary Bettman, who said the NHL could find other air carriers.

The NHL has been swamped with criticism and ridicule following its decision not to fine or suspend Chara for what many considered a vicious and potentially life-threatening hit.

Unlike Air Canada, however, the rail company is not threatening to revoke its financial support.

"This is not about our sponsorship really. It's about saying what we felt needed to be said about a subject that is important to our customers, our employees and to Canadians," a company official said.

"But being a sponsor gives us the right, as a stakeholder, to say what we said to the NHL today, from inside the arena if you will."

Via sponsors the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators but will not divulge the amounts it spends, citing confidentiality clauses in its commercial contracts.

Meanwhile, Quebec's premier added his voice Friday to the chorus of condemnation against the NHL.

Jean Charest said that NHL team owners need to urgently address hockey violence. He said he's shocked by the level of brutality in the sport and the lack of effort by the league to stop it.

"It bothers me that the NHL isn't wondering about the issue of violence," he said. "I think it would benefit the team owners to sit down with the directors of the league and reflect on it."


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