Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Aftermath: Fear

Watching Max Pacioretty lying motionless on the ice after being crushed into the glass by Zdeno Chara, I remembered him just before the outdoor game against Calgary. Reporters were asking several of the players how they intended to stay warm in the sub-zero temperatures. Most talked about layering or adrenaline or just toughing it out. Pacioretty sheepishly announced that his mom had sent him finger and toe warmers, to make sure he wouldn't suffer from the cold. With that in mind, I thought of Mrs.Pacioretty, and what she must have felt, seeing her son lying there motionless in the hush of a shocked arena. If the collective horror of the 21273 in the crowd was palpable, it was but a drop in the ocean to the fear and panic that mother experienced as doctors and trainers manouvered her son onto the stretcher. Worse for her, it was the second time she had to witness that this season.

The question everyone will be asking today is whether Chara caused all that fear and horror on purpose. NHL veterans know it's easy to get into Chara's head. While he may not be naturally inclined to violence, he can be goaded and frustrated into making stupid decisions. Brian Gionta knows this. There's no way a guy his size should get the best of a guy as big as Chara, but he does it because he knows Chara will react if harrassed. It's worse when the Bruins are getting trounced.

Last night was the perfect storm of factors for getting the biggest man in the NHL riled up. His team was getting absolutely dominated on the ice by its most hated rival, after a build-up completely out of whack for a regular-season game. The Bruins were being embarrassed 4-0 on the scoreboard, including two goals by relative nobody Lars Eller. On special teams, the Habs were 2-for-3 on the PP and sported a perfect PK, and the Canadiens' speed on transition was forcing Chara and his fellow defencemen into mistakes. That alone was frustrating for the Bruins. Then you factor in Pacioretty.

Chara was unreasonably angry at the kid for pushing him away from the Habs' victory scrum after an earlier Canadiens win in Boston. He went after Pacioretty then. And Pax likes to go plant himself in the area from which Chara's dedicated to moving people away. So, by the end of the second period, when the Bruins were getting Ole'd off the ice, Chara saw Pacioretty coming along the boards by the benches.

At that moment, the guy everyone claims is a lovable, gentle giant off the ice, made an impulsive decision driven by the frustration he so easily experiences on it. Instead of simply interfering with him and stopping him, Chara chose to erase Pacioretty altogether, driving his head into the stanchion. He said after the game he didn't mean to hurt Pacioretty, and the hit was "unfortunate."

Today, the league must decide what to do with Chara. He claims innocence and says Pacioretty exacerbated the damage by jumping into the glass himself as Chara laid the hit. Carey Price says anyone throwing a hit should know his surroundings and the risk involved, and he's right. Suspensions are often determined more by the injury to the victim rather than the intent of the offender, and we have to hope justice is served in that way for Pacioretty.

In the end, the Canadiens proved they are not too small or frail to beat the souped-up Bruins. Both teams came in with the rosters they'll be icing during the playoffs, with huge hype and a deep desire to win. Lack of motivation could not possibly have been a factor, yet the Habs handily won the only fight, then completely owned their rivals for the rest of the game. Milan Lucic's asshole gesturing to the crowd after his futile goal in the third notwithstanding, the Bruins had nothing. When push came to shove, the Canadiens pulled together and played their game, which beats the Bruins game almost every time.

It's just terribly sad that the joy we should be feeling after such a statement game by our team is absent today. There's satisfaction, to a degree, but the horrible vision of Max Pacioretty lying there before his mother's eyes overwhelms the urge to gloat. No matter the outcome for either team, the outcome for that young man is still uncertain. Sometimes, mom's toe warmers aren't enough to fix what's wrong, and we can only hope the brain injury Pacioretty suffered last night will heal quickly and well.


Anonymous said...

As always, JT, beautifully written. As much as I want to piss and moan and call for Chara's head on a season-ending platter, all I can do is hope and pray that Max is going to be ok. I saw a still of the hit and Chara's elbow is clearly pushing his head into the glass. Ugly, ugly hit that, for me at least, is hard to see as anything but revenge.

Dman said...

Nice piece JT. We've all witnessed hockey go from a tough-as-nails game to nothing more than a bunch of skilled players being stalked by a bunch of head hunters. This is the game the Bettman wants to be able to sell it to the NASCAR crowds in the sunny south. Well congrats Bettman, you now have NASCAR on ice.

The hit last night sickened me to the point where I didn't sleep well. What sickens me even more is reading some comments on sports sites from fans and commentators alike and the very real possibility that Chara will receive little or no disciplinary action for his retaliation on Max-Pac.

At some point, the league, owners, GM's etc HAS to step up and say enough is enough. The subject of this brutality on ice comes up and they all glance at their shoes, pretend to be busy and hope the statement dies on the table because it sells in a lot of arenas where hockey is an afterthought, not a passion.

dusty said...

Your third and fourth paragraphs sum up the Pacioretty hit perfectly. The Bruins had just beefed up for a deep playoff run at the trade deadline and it was deja vue all over again. Exposed as pretenders again by their nemesis, the hated Habs.

A few years ago the B's got Gonchar and Nielander to no avail. Watched the NESN feed and even Edwards admitted that the Bruins don't match up well with Montreal. This all factors in to the unfortunate hit by Chara when his defense partner was recovering puck and there was no danger in the play.

Two dangerous head shots on one night (Smid on Powe the other) and I'm sure nothing will come of either. Roenick and Holik, both of whom I like and respect seem to think Chara's hit was ok but not Smid's hit on Powe. Makes you think.

DB said...

I'm continually amazed at how many fans and commentators feel suspensions should be based on intent and that injuries should not be taken into account.

My view is suspensions should be determined based on a 4 step process.

Step 1 - did the player break any rules. If not then there can be no suspension.

Step 2 has two parts.

Part A - what was the players intent. Often this is impossible or difficult to determine.

Part B - was the player negligent or reckless. In other words, did he know or should he have known that his actions were dangerous.

Step 3 - how severe was the infraction. In most cases, injuries give a very good indication of the viciousness of the infraction. It's pretty hard to argue that a hit wasn't vicious when the recepient ends up with broken bones.

Step 4 - are there any mitigating circumstances. For example, if Hedman's hit on Crosby was being reviewed then Crosby's collision with Steckell would have to be taken into account.

Applying these steps to Chara's hit gives:

Step 1 - Chara was guilty of interference and/or boarding.

Step 2 - You could have endless debates about whether Chara meant to drive MaxPac into the stanchion or not. Only he knows for sure.

However, Chara should have known that hitting a player as hard as he did that close to a stanchion was a dangerous play. That means he was reckless.

Step 3 - MacPac suffered a severe concussion and a cracked vertebrae which gives indicates just how vicious the hit was.

Step 4 - there are no mitigating circumstances. Chara knew or should have known where he was on the ice and still decided to deliver a devastating illegal hit.

Suspend him.

V said...

Hmmmm... I must have made a mistake in trying to post an earlier comment expressing my doubt that Chara would get any suspension. It did not show up.

Anyway, just checked in as the news is just out that he will not be suspended. It's a shame.

Tara said...

I appreciate what DB has put into his/her answer. It really takes thought (something few Habs fans can muster right now) and the ability to step back from the fray. I, however, have no ability to do this. I'm so angry at the league's lack of comprehension, ability, consistency. No suspension? Chara's deserving of at least 10, but not in this iteration of the NHL. This is an invitation to all (dirty or not): Hit high, hit late, hit with poor judgement and most importantly, hit with impunity.

Anonymous said...

A fight is a fight. Mutual consent.

These sorts of things aren't mutual consent. Playing a sport hard you sometimes do things you regret. They are impulsive and seldom able to be corrected.

Chara took the smaller man into that stanchion with his body and then his elbow to ensure the head hit the post. Now I would like to think he did that because he was psycho, but he is not. He has a temper, is huge, and does not like to look bad in losing.

The NHL did nothing because it is not about turning away money. This is a matter for the courts not the NHL.

Ian said...

WTF. No suspension! Should we be surprised?

The Boston Globe had a picture of Max at the point of impact with the stanchion. Chara's elbow was at the back of his head, pushing him into it. Even the Boston reporter stated that there was no justifying the hit, and to expect a suspension.

We know that Colin Campbell recused hiself, but we also know that doesn't mean ANYTHING based upon his past e-mails becoming public. In games where son Gregory plays, he is not unbiased and not uninvolved.

When son Greg was battering Pyatt's face with an elbow pad a month ago, there were suggestions by reporters that it should be reviewed for a suspension. Of course, didn't happen.

What BS!

I hate the neanderthals on the Bruins. I'm so glad we have beaten them four of five so far this season. It looks good on them!

So, now Max has a broken neck. Chara walks free.

I'm so effing pissed I can't think straight.

This league is a crock of sh*t. It will wait until someone is finally killed by a head shot before it really sends a message via a meaningful suspension.

I'm disgusted!!

Anonymous said...

If I have a few too many beers and hop in my car and kill someone, how will the judge react if I say, "It's unfortunate, but I didn't mean to kill anyone. That's not my style. I'm just trained to drink hard and drive fast."

I don't care what all these NHL guys are saying. They know better. I played the game. I can break a guys ribs with the toe of my stick while backchecking and nobody will even see it, let alone notice my intent. Slew foot, cork screw, spear behind the knee, face-off lace axe, fake tumble stick whip, you name it. Only a fool thinks there's only ill intent in hockey when it looks like obvious ill intent.

Chara's a veteran. He know's G-D well where the stanchion is and how to skate someone right into it. Again, only a fool or someone with an agenda would think that players have never used that same exact play to show someone who's the boss.

Did Chara mean to cause serious injury? Probably not. Did he mean to cause some extra pain there and lash out at being embarassed? You betcha he did.