Friday, March 11, 2011

Another Reason to Hate the Big Zee

Everyone else is talking about it. I figured I’d better weigh in on the topic, too.

If you’re a hockey fan, the hit that Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins laid on the Habs’ Max Pacioretty on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal is old news.

It’s been the hot topic on Canadian sports and news stations for four days now. And it isn’t fading away. Not in the least.

I didn’t see the hit live, but later that night, as I checked my Twitter feed, I knew something big had gone down. The sports reporters and hockey players that I follow were all talking about the Chara hit and debating whether or not it was dirty.

First thing Wednesday morning, I hit up Youtube to see for myself. And honestly, when I first watched it, I couldn’t believe Pacioretty’s head was still attached to his body after Chara slammed him into the stanchion by the Montreal players bench. As he lay prone on the ice, unconscious, the medical staff attending to him were literally looking for a pulse. He was taken from the ice on a stretcher, then rushed by ambulance to hospital, where it was discovered he had a severe concussion and a broken 4th cervical vertebrae.

At the time, Chara was given a major penalty and game misconduct. On Wednesday, the NHL announced that no further disciplinary action would be taken against Chara. The powers that be deemed it a clean hockey play, and that Pacioretty had the misfortune of being at the wrong place on the ice at the wrong time; that had Chara rubbed him into the boards anywhere else in the rink, it wouldn’t have even been a topic of conversation. It was the the fact that he drilled him into a steel stanchion at the edge of the glass by the benches that caused such a severe injury, and because of the speed of the game, Chara likely didn’t even realize where he was when he finished his check on the Habs forward.

Bad timing. Unfortunate. Just part of the game...

Normally, I buy into the belief that hockey is a dangerous game, and that by stepping on the ice, players are accepting the fact that anything can happen when they’re out there.
But in recent years, and especially this season, with the game’s biggest young star, Sidney Crosby, forced out of the game indefinitely by several concussions, the talk on headshots and how to eliminate them from NHL hockey has grown into a major issue. Chara’s hit on Pacioretty has only escalated these discussions.

The backlash over the Chara hit grows daily. First it was shock and outrage over the fact that Chara wasn’t suspended. Pacioretty himself issued a statement from his hospital bed saying he was disgusted that disciplinary action wasn’t taken against Chara. Then Air Canada, a sponsor of the National Hockey League, issued a letter stating that if the NHL doesn’t begin to take steps to make the game safer and take serious action against players who target other players’ heads, that they may be forced to withdraw their sponsorship. And today, after infuriated fans in Montreal jammed up 911 emergency phone lines by calling to report Chara’s hit, the city’s police have opened a criminal investigation into the incident.


Yes, this is a serious matter. If you don’t believe me, just watch the replay of the hit. Trust me, it will leave a sick feeling in your stomach. You won’t want to watch it again. It’s as close to human decapitation as I ever want to see.

If I was a Habs fan? I’d probably be royally pissed too.

I do have to admit, though, that I’m not Zdeno Chara’s biggest fan. Zee and I go way back, to the days when he was one of Ottawa’s top 2 defencemen.

Guess who the other one was?

The summer that Chara and Wade Redden both headed to unrestricted free agency, team management scrambled to get them both signed to new contracts, but Chara refused to take a pay cut to stay and play in Ottawa. So the team had to make a decision. Redden or Chara?
They showed loyalty by signing Redden, a player who had been with the organization since his rookie year and had always been a strong member of the community and one of the best on the ice. They let Chara walk. Redden’s game quickly declined thereafter, while Chara went on to become the captain of the Bruins and has received Norris Trophy for Best Defenceman consideration every year.

I literally tear another clump of my hair out everytime I hear someone say the Sens made the wrong choice by keeping Redden and letting Chara go.

So no. I wasn’t his biggest fan. Even before the horrifying incident of earlier this week.
Many sports talkshow hosts and analysts claim that this isn’t typical of Zdeno Chara’s character. He’s not a malicious player. He has no record of previous suspensions, despite being one of the biggest players in the game, at 6’9” and 250 lbs. Some have even suggested that he’s an emotional guy who will be affected by this long after the rest of the hockey world has forgetten.
But I’m not so sure. I’ve watched the replay. More times than I’d have liked to. And I have to say, it sure looks to me like Chara knew exactly what he was doing. It even looks like he gave Pacioretty’s head that extra shove into the turnbuckle. I don’t believe he intentionally wanted to break the guy’s neck, but it was a reckless play. I don’t care how fast he was going. It sure looked to me like he knew where they were on the ice and that he was about to really potentially hurt the guy.

He didn’t care that they were nowhere near the puck. He didn’t let up. He didn’t try to stop it.
He gave that extra shove.

Just finishing his check, you say?

Blame it on the construction of the rinks. Blame it on that stanchion. Blame it on the league for putting it there.

But I think Zdeno Chara should be shouldering at least some of the blame. Players need to be more careful out there.

Before someone is killed.

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