The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/02/12 at 03:03 PM ET
Updated 2x at 4:10 PM: The NHL suspended St. Louis Blues defenseman Ian Cole for three games due to a hit to the head of Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader, and the St. Louis Blues’ response, a statement from Blues GM Doug Armstrong to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford, sums up the ways in which teams tend to respond to suspensions for hits to the head umder Brendan Shanahan’s watch:
I don’t think it was a reckless play…I think it was a hockey play that was legal 12 months ago that’s not legal today,” he said. “I understand the sensitivity on hits to the head and we respect that, but I support Ian in the sense that it was a play that (Abdelkader) coming across the middle has to be aware, and unfortunately he wasn’t.
“We accept the decision because we understand the importance of player safety. I respect the league because I sit in on those meetings and we do say that we want to (eliminate these types of hits), so you have to live with the ramifications. But I don’t think it was an intentful play, or a wreckless play. I just think it was a hockey play that went awry. I understand the league’s position, but I also understand Ian’s position.”
Abdelkader dodged a bullet and was able to return to play on Saturday, scoring a goal in the Wings’ 3-0 victory, and offered a strikingly similar comment regarding the hit to DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose (via RedWingsFeed):
“Maybe the hockey gods were looking down on me,” said Abdelkader, following Saturday’s game. “It’s just one of those plays we want to take out of the game. I don’t know if he intentionally went after my head. It’s one of those bang-bang plays. Just glad I could come back and help the team out.”
Cole joins Blues’ teammate Chris Stewart, who earned his own three-game suspension for shoving Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall from behind and into the boards during a game in St. Louis on Nov. 15. For his illegal hit, the Blues’ forward donated $46,621.62 to the players’ fund.
“It’s good to comeback from a hit like that,” Abdelkader said. “I didn’t see the hit, but I definitely got hit in the head.”
Update: Here’s a good reminder as to what Cole had to say about his hit to the press, per the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness:
“I just stepped up,” Cole said after the game. “I think he saw me coming at the last second and tried to cut back inside real quick. I had him lined up. I wasnt going to go high, I wasn’t going to go for the head. I was just going right for his shoulder. He tried to cut back and avoid and he put his head right into my shoulder.”
Update #2: Here’s what Cole had to say to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Dan O’Neill about his suspension:
“Obviously, they’re trying to take head hits out of the game,” Cole said. “So you expect every situation like that to get reviewed… Getting knocked out of playing for three games stinks. But (Shanahan’s) got a job to do. I understand that. He’s trying to take head hits out off the game.”
That said, a problem that still seems to exist for the NHL is a lack of consistency in terms of dealing with such hits. For instance, Pavel Datsyuk appeared to get away entirely with a hit to Barret Jackman’s head during the same game. Datsyuk is one the elite players in the league.
On Thursday night, Phoenix pest Raffi Torres clearly appeared to throw an elbow at the head of Colorado defenseman Jan Hejda. Torres received a $2,500 fine but no suspension. Torres is a repeat offender, a player well known for pushing the legal envelope.
Cole, 22, has played in 39 NHL games and had has no such reputation. Yet, he got three games for the hit on Abdelkader. Cole explained it was a play he has made numerous times.
“That read, I’ve made countless times in my life,” he said. “A guy comes through the middle, looking back over his shoulder for a suicide pass, you step up and try to hit him hard. It’s not a dirty hit, not a malicious hit, not necessarily what I would think to be reckless.
“It’s something where I was very aware of what I was doing. Was I trying to target his head? Not at all. I’ve made that read, and I’m sure I will continue to make that same read, throughout my career… Maybe I will try to get a little bit more in front of him and come back, try to hit him right in the chest. But it’s just unfortunate, a couple of inches, a split-second of missed timing. If I would have just caught his shoulder first instead of his head, it’s fine. (The suspension) stinks, but (Abdelkader) is fine, which is good. So all I can do is work hard this week in practice, stay in shape and be ready to go when it’s done.”
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