Aaron Rome Deserves NHL Suspension, But Nathan Horton’s Absence, Injury Much More Significant for Bruins


June 7, 2011

Aaron Rome Deserves NHL Suspension, But Nathan Horton's Absence, Injury Much More Significant for Bruins Even if you just began following the NHL last fall, you’d know that what Aaron Rome did to Nathan Horton was not OK. With Mike Richards hitting David Booth, and with Matt Cooke hitting Marc Savard, and with both players avoiding discipline, the NHL made changes. Rome ignored those new rules when he hit Horton’s head at full speed, and he’ll meet with Mike Murphy on Tuesday morning to discuss his fate.

Rome deserves a suspension — two games, maybe? — from the NHL. Will he get one? Who knows? It’s still Colin Campbell‘s office for now, one that’s been inconsistent and unpredictable for years. To state with any level of certainty that Rome will be suspended by an office whose words have preached player safety but whose actions have said otherwise would be a foolish endeavor.

(Update: Rome was suspended four games by the NHL.)

But that’s not the story. The story is that Nathan Horton, the Bruins’ first-line right winger and the man who’s scored three game-winners (two in overtime of Game 7’s) this postseason, looked like he won’t be able to play again this year. Much worse and much more significant than that, we don’t know how Horton, 26, will be affected off the ice.

Perhaps if the Savard saga hadn’t happened right before our eyes in Boston over the past 16 months, we wouldn’t be so sensitive, but it did. Savard was out cold in Pittsburgh, a stretcher catching everyone off guard back in Boston on an uneventful Sunday afternoon last March. He didn’t appear publicly until two 20 days later, when he hardly looked to be himself in the TD Garden media room. He was pale and gaunt, and his voice was nearly silent.

More than a year later, he’s still not the same.

It’s far, far too early, of course, to speculate that Horton will be forced to deal with a similar recovery. But it’s hard to shake the image of the big winger lying on the ice, his right arm frozen in the air, his eyes open but his stare blank. It was frightening, and it’s not what anyone wants to see when they watch sports.

For the Bruins, in the short term, it creates a ton of issues. The injury breaks up the B’s top line, which has been one of the very few units to have remained together for nearly the entire season. Claude Julien mixed and matched the spot in Game 3 to get through the night, but he’ll have to get creative going forward. Inserting the still-inexperienced Tyler Seguin into such an important position would be a risk, as would breaking up the Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronMark Recchi line, which has been the most consistent unit all season (the trio combined for three goals and two assists in Game 3). There’s Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley available as options, but neither can replace Horton’s size or scoring ability.

Even if the league decides to suspend Rome for the rest of the series (which they won’t), the Bruins have lost a much more important member of their team. The tradeoff is far from balanced.

But again, it’s hard to worry too much about hockey right now. Savard’s struggle has driven home the fact that a split second on the ice can affect a man’s livelihood for years. Seeing Horton lying on the ice, it was hard not to think about that. Forget that Horton is one of the true good guys in the Bruins locker room, always smiling and often thanking reporters for invading his locker space every night. He plays hockey with a hot temper, but off the ice, he’s as pleasant as they come. It wouldn’t matter if the victim of the hit was the worst guy in the world, though. Nobody deserves what Horton got.

During the game, I received two text messages from a couple of friends. One came from a paramedic, who said what he thought Horton was experiencing on the ice, using the words “traumatic” and “brain injury” to help explain. Another came from a former EMT who’s currently midway through medical school. He immediately expressed grave concern for Horton’s health off the ice.

Neither are doctors, obviously, and even the best doctor can’t diagnose a patient via television. Still, their concern, coupled with the still-present gruesome reality of Marc Savard, made it hard to get too worked up for a hockey game.

The Bruins, of course, had no choice but to move on, and they did just that with an 8-1 thumping of the Canucks. They’ll continue to do so Wednesday in Game 4, all the way up to a potential Game 7 next Wednesday in Vancouver. They’re in a position to accomplish something that the city hasn’t seen in 39 years, and they can’t let anything — not even the loss of a respected and admired teammate — stop them.

For Horton, though, “moving on” will mean something completely different. It will mean remembering he’s in Boston, not Vancouver. It will likely mean dealing with headaches and increased sensitivity, and it will mean a long road back to the ice, if he’s fortunate.

In cases like this, there’s just no such thing as “justice.” A Stanley Cup comeback would be nice for the Bruins, but it wouldn’t erase the head injury Horton suffered. A retaliatory hit on Rome or any other Canuck would just make matters worse.

Rome may well be suspended, and the Bruins sure did win 8-1 in front of their home crowd, but it’s just hard for anyone on any side to feel too good about this one.

Is there any way “justice” can really be served in situations like this one? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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