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Dirty Hits Littering NHL Season

March 18, 2010


by Jesse Liebman
Editorial. Photos by AP News
For many hockey fans, the next best thing after a goal is a bone-crushing hit. There are some players who have made bodychecking an art form; every movement and action is precisely designed to separate the puck from the player.
But there are moments when the legality of a hit is suspect.
The sport of hockey has a violent history; we can’t ignore it any more than baseball fans can’t ignore the presence of steroids in the game. It’s a dark side that often deals the game a black eye in the sports pages. Remember Todd Bertuzzi’s unprovoked hit on Steve Moore in 2004? For months, that seemed to be the only thing that ran on ESPN and other networks when it came time to discuss the National Hockey League.

The NHL is now considering outlawing blindside hits that could potentially leave players with head trauma and concussions. This is a decision that has been years in the making, but has been prompted by the slew of devastating hits and injuries that we’ve seen this season.
Recently, the questionable play of Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin has come under fire. Cooke has been known as a “dirty” player, but Ovechkin has arguably gotten a free pass in the past because he plays a high-tempo style that leads to his brilliant offensive production. But the National Hockey League is a professional organization; there is a level of professionalism and respect that should be shared between the players — the league’s employees.
Ironically enough, the opposite of what many people predicted occurred when it came time to face punishment. Cooke received nothing, while Ovechkin was sacked for two games. The league has also been taking notice of Ovechkin this season; prior to his hit on Brian Campbell of the Chicago Blackhawks, he had already been forced to sit for two games earlier in the season for a hit against Tim Gleason.
In the case of Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins, it’s hard to distinguish what constitutes as “dirty” or unsportsmanlike. The hit was essentially a blindside hit, but Cooke didn’t take any strides, and the physical contact can be deemed as simply accidental. With Ovechkin’s hit on Campbell, again, there isn’t much stride taken by the offender, but Ovechkin’s obvious and reckless pushing of Campbell into the boards is what led to his second suspension of the season.

When the NHL’s head disciplinary honcho Colin Campbell (no relation) is forced to make the difficult decision of suspending a player, he factors in a litany of variables to determine the appropriate punishment.
Injury to a player definitely plays a strong role, as he had this to say during a recent radio interview: “Look, if there’s no injury on the play, we probably, we don’t do anything, but that’s part of the supplemental discipline process. If you cause a player to be injured, then you have to be responsible for the play that you’re involved in, if there’s any carelessness or recklessness in it.”
Does the result dictate the terms of punishment, or is it the nature of the hit itself? It will be interesting to see how Campbell will deal with any infractions after Thursday’s game when Cooke and the Penguins face off against Boston yet again.
Here at The Good Old Hockey Show, we present to you our compilation of some of the dirtiest hits from this year.

10. Curtis Glencross on Chris Drury — 11/7/09
You can make the case that this is a tamer version of the Cooke hit. But Glencross lands himself on this list for his blindside that left the Rangers captain with a concussion, and Glencross sitting out for three games.


9. Cam Janssen on Matt Bradley — 2/13/10
Janssen earned himself a five-game suspension. A just punishment for a player who has had a history of dirty play before.


8. Alexander Ovechkin on Tim Gleason — 11/30/09
There’s something to be said about karma when you consider Ovechkin ended up injuring himself on the play. No. 8 received five minutes for kneeing, a game misconduct, and a two-game suspension. Nevertheless, leading with your knee into the hit is perhaps one of the most thuggish acts in hockey. Ovechkin landed his first two-game suspension of the season.


7. Matt Cooke on Marc Savard — 3/7/10
Cooke already has a reputation as a cheap shot artist. Savard likely will Thursday’s rematch at TD Garden should be interesting.


6. Mike Richards on David Booth — 10/24/09
This is another tricky one. Richards didn’t receive a suspension for this hit, which incidentally set a precedent for the Cooke hit. But if you look closely, Richards appears to leave the ice before he makes contact with Booth. A hit like this — regardless of intent — is reckless and dangerous.


5. Maxim Lapierre on Scott Nichol — 3/4/10
TSN’s Ray Ferraro put it best: “This is absolute garbage.” 4 games for Lapierre.

4. Tuomo Ruutu on Darcy Tucker — 10/23/09
Ruutu in many ways can be considered the poor man’s Ovechkin. He scores goals, and has a penchant for rough, physical play. His hit on Tucker is one of many reasons he is reviled around the league. Ruutu earned a 3-game suspension on this one.


3. James Wisniewski on Brent Seabrook — 3/17/10
Things were already bad after losing Campbell. If Seabrook is out for a while, it could spell disaster for the Blackhawks’ hopes for a long run in the postseason. A suspension is likely in Wisniewski’s future. UPDATE: Wisniewski has received an eight-game suspension for his hit. Not surprising when you consider the implications of the hit.

2. Alex Oveckhin on Brian Campbell — 3/14/10
Ovechkin earns no sympathy here. He clearly uses excessive force and speed to deliberately run Campbell into the boards. Two games for “O-V.”

1. (QMJHL) Patrice Cormier on Mikael Tam — 1/17/10
This hit deserves mention because of the hits to the head this season, this one was perhaps the most sickening. Cormier’s elbow left Tam convulsing on the ice. As a consequence, Cormier was suspended for the rest of the 2010 QMJHL regular season and playoff. Nothing more needs to be said here (Caution: viewer discretion is advised).
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