What Would Happen in NHL If Skate Were on the Other Foot?

What Would Happen in NHL If Skate Were on the Other Foot? Foreword: Soon after the United States of America won its independence — to be free and equal among all nations — John Adams and Thomas Jefferson paid an official visit to the Court of King George III. The king literally turned his back on them. Adams and Jefferson, having had their knowledge and notions of aristocratic mistreatment reaffirmed, were united in their hatred of the king and all his loyal subjects ever after. They were right then, and they are right now.


Any resemblance to events, people or places in the following work of fiction is purely coincidental.


Slidsy Cornsbie of the Porkburgh Pinkins lies on the ice, his eyes barely open and already glazed over. His right arm twitches slightly. His legs don't move. 

The brilliant center, a national icon in Canada at age 22 and the most complete champion in hockey, never saw the hit coming. Backing into the high slot to improve his shooting angle, an opponent attacked from the blind side. The blow coldcocked Cornsbie. His head snapped violently right to left, his body followed, and he fell in a heap. Since he had released his shot and the puck was 50 feet away when he got hit, few actually saw the contact — not the four on-ice officials, not his coach, not even most of his teammates.

The replays show that the offending player was a marginal winger, thrice suspended. He clearly targeted Cornsbie's head. The player came from an angle behind Cornsbie's right ear (the absolute blind spot for a left-handed shot) and — even though he could have checked Cornsbie body-across-body, surely taking him down — elected to go right past the bigger and more proper target to hit him in the head.

The offending player, in hockey parlance, plays "on the edge," but his rap sheet is way past the edge. His two most recent suspensions, both within the last 14 months, have been meted out for extraordinarily similar-looking hits — but this one on Cornsbie is easily the most vicious and the most blindsided. It is as if the crimes are escalating after each sentence served, the picture of horrifying recidivism.

The player who delivered the hit said, in the dressing room, "It felt like shoulder on shoulder." His words stretched beyond the point of what is believable, even to his teammates — none of whom defended him on the day of the game. Lying about a fact does not change the truth of the fact. It just reveals the speaker to be a liar as well as a criminal.

The league's rule book has several instances that seem to cover this kind of intentional contact. Rule 21(i) calls for a match penalty for "an attempt to injure (in any manner)." From Table 7, on page 135 of the rule book, Automatic Game Misconducts: "for a major elbowing penalty to the face or head." Shoulder? Elbow? The elbow definitely comes up in the replays. It's hard to tell exactly what part of the anatomy made contact with Cornsbie's head. But the head was the target, and the offender's aim was dead on.

Did the referees' inability to see the infraction mean that the player should not be punished in any way? The league can review and punish, regardless of infractions called or not called in the course of a game.

Giving a man a concussion is injuring a man. There is little question for anyone of a balanced mind that, instead of targeting the body, the offending player targeted Cornsbie's head, which certainly qualifies as "an attempt to injure (in any way)." He hit Cornsbie not to separate him from the puck but rather to separate him from consciousness. He fully succeeded.

Surely, the league would act quickly and decisively as the young icon of hockey lay in his woozy purgatory.

An hour after game, reporters call up video of the offender’s “priors” on their handheld devices. It is believed that a certain senior league official also owns such a device and he certainly has access to extensive video resources. Yet, in the first few hours, there is no word of any involvement in a disciplinary procedure from the league. 

Canadian networks edit the two previous suspension incidents to the hit on Cornsbie and run the segments of video in succession. There is a distinct pattern to the offender's blindsided knockout attempts. Some journalists even characterize them as "identical." Sentiment is unanimous among commentators, some of whom are former professional players, that this is exactly the kind of hit and the kind of player that should be banished.

The day after the hit, the offender's general manager reminds the media that no penalty was called on the play, efficiently attempting to spin his rhetoric to make the act seem as if it is something allowed within the normal course of events in a game.

The senior league official does nothing. He is attending meetings that have to do with hits to the head. The senior league official appears on several talk shows, spending at least an hour answering a variety of questions on television and radio. But he apparently does not have time to issue a ruling on the hit that nearly crippled Cornsbie. 

Cornsbie is examined by team doctors and found to have suffered a Grade 2 concussion. Not only will he be out of action, but the team won’t even evaluate his condition for four to five days. It is a long-term injury, jeopardizing the team’s season.

The senior league official enjoys the Florida sunset, not ruling on the status of the player who knocked Cornsbie unconscious. There is outrage in Porkburgh. "What is keeping the league from making up its mind on what so clearly was a felonious act?" fans wonder.

Porkburgh's organization seethes. The offending player has hidden behind the instigator rule for his entire career. He was suspended in 2004 for spearing. He was suspended in January of 2009 for what the senior league official described as "a deliberate check to the head area" of a player. He was suspended in November of the current season for what the league official described as a "result of a blow delivered to the head" of another opponent. Previous punishment obviously did not change the offending player’s behavior. Previous punishment had the same effect as making a wayward son pay for his own gas to drive Dad's Lamborghini to the prom. Son got a speeding ticket on the way home. Dad told him not to do it again, again. The state police radar clocked the boy doing 91. Son said it felt like he was going 45. 

How has a player such as this escaped the "un"official punishment, the kind that comes from his peers? The offending player has taken full advantage of the commissioner’s surge to purge fighting from the game. He is one of several examples of the species that hockey’s voices of reason warned would appear out of the primordial slime when the instigator rule came into being: dirty players who don't have to be directly accountable for their cowardly actions. 

Old hockey players, the ones with the great stories and the ugly scars of which they can be proud, told us this would happen. A Cup winner once said, "The best form of negative reinforcement is to beat the %&*# out of a guy in front of 17,000 of his friends. That’ll stop that kind of behavior right away." But league management, consisting of an outside-the-sport guy and his cronies, legislated frontier-justice fighting out of the game in a gauzy, lace-framed fantasy of drawing soccer moms to Sun Belt arenas. Old hockey players were right. 

The offending player, his record shows, has taken part in only 13 fights in an 11-season career. Six of those fights have been against players from Europe, where pugilism is not part of their game. Two of his opponents' only career fighting majors are their bouts with the offender. Another of his opponents fought only twice in his career. A Web site that polls fans on every fight in the league has the offender’s lifetime record at zero wins, eight losses, five draws and one "turtle."

Cornsbie's injury put the Pinks, fighting for a playoff spot, in the position of having to choose between what was right and what was necessary. If they had exacted revenge right away, they almost certainly would have been assessed extra penalties, forcing them to play shorthanded in the final minutes of their game — virtually forfeiting their opportunity to win two precious points in the standings. Their retaliation also would have brought automatic suspensions and fines after the senior league official examined the video — whenever he got around to it.

Porkburgh tried to take the high road for two years, but saw the league do little or nothing to defend its players. It saw one player nearly killed on the ice, another one having his face driven into the glass with five seconds left in a two-goal game, another cross-checked across the face in the closing minute of a playoff series — only to have the senior league official take little or no action. And now this.

Justice delayed was so disrespectful as to be justice denied. 

It was arrogance they would never forget.

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