BOSTON — The instinct to rally to the defense of a teammate is understandable and commendable. Trying to shirk responsibility and shift blame to the victim, however, is simply despicable, and the words of many of the Canucks on Tuesday were almost as disturbing as the sight of Nathan Horton being stretchered off the ice on Monday.
It wasn't particularly surprising to hear the Canucks steadfastly supporting defenseman Aaron Rome in the wake of his devastating hit on Horton early in Game 3 while meeting with the media at Boston University on Monday. That hit ended the season for both players, as Horton is out for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Final with a severe concussion and Rome was suspended for four games — the maximum that could remain in this series — for his late hit.
The Canucks disagreed with the league's decision to suspend Rome, feeling it was unwarranted and excessive.
"We don't agree with the call, but it's something we're going to have to deal with and move forward," Canucks forward Manny Malhotra said. "It was obviously a very severe suspension for the hit itself."
"It was a bang-bang hockey play," Malhotra added.
That's a debatable contention at best. Rome was clearly late with his hit, which came about a full second after Horton got rid of the puck with a pass over to Milan Lucic on the left wing. Horton was looking away when hit, but the NHL ruled it wasn't a blindside hit under Rule 48. There wasn't any doubt that Rome targeted the head though, and he also appeared to leave his feet to launch into Horton for the hit.
That's what replays from the broadcast show. The Canucks must have access to an alternative angle Zapruder-like film, because they saw something completely different.
"I do think at the end of the day also it was a north-south play, [Zdeno] Chara to Horton, he made a pass to Lucic," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "He was looking at his pass. Aaron was a tad late. Aaron isn't a dirty player, never has been, never will be. It was a hit that unfortunately turned bad."
And thus the subtle shift starts. The Canucks quickly went from supporting their teammate to shifting the blame to the victim. The fault, in their minds, lays with Horton for admiring his pass, while Rome came in just "a tad late."
Canucks captain Henrik Sedin went even further in exonerating Rome and putting Horton at fault.
"I don't think Romer really stepped up [to make the hit]," Sedin said. "He was standing still when he made the hit. It wasn't like he was skating full speed from the blind side. He was standing still. I thought it was more Horton that ran into him. Romer stepped up and made a good hit."
Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, a former teammate of Horton's in Florida, had a similar take.
"It was borderline," Luongo said of Rome's hit. "It was a hockey play. Obviously [Horton] got hit in the head. From what I understand he was leaning into it. We don't feel it deserved a suspension."
"We all feel bad for Rome," Luongo added. "We don't feel he deserved what he got."
There were sentiments of concern for Horton's well being from most of the Canucks as well, but the Vancouver players also made sure to stress how distressing it was for Rome to miss the remainder of the series.
"It's devastating to be so close, to be playing in your dream, now to have it taken away," Malhotra said. "It obviously hurts a lot. But that being said, he was a huge part of our team. His attitude, his mentality, his focus, just being around the guys is going to help us a lot. Even though he won't be able to play, he's definitely going to be a big part, have a big impact on this team."
Rome himself may have had the most reasonable response, albeit in a prepared statement he released rather than meeting with the media to field questions about the hit and suspension.
"I want to express my concern for Nathan's well being and wish him a quick and full recovery," the statement read. "I try to play this game honestly and with integrity. As someone who has experienced this type of injury I am well aware of its serious nature and have no desire for another player to experience it. I will not take away my teammates' focus on the task at hand and intend to speak at an appropriate time in future."
The Bruins appeared to rally around the loss of Horton as they rolled to an 8-1 win on Monday. They'll try to win three more for him to complete their quest for the Cup, but the Canucks plan to use Rome's suspension as motivation as well.
"I think we're thinking of Rome right now," Daniel Sedin said. "He's a hard-working guy, great teammate and a friend. He's going to be out of the playoffs. It should be a rallying cry for us, too."
In reality, the suspension should serve as a strong message to try to stamp out such predatory head shots from the game. But if that's the message the league tried to send, the Canucks clearly didn't receive it.
"I know Aaron would never have those intentions to injure somebody," Malhotra said. "He's a hard-nosed player, very honest player. He obviously feels very bad that Nathan is in the state he is, but I don't think it will change his game. He's a very hard-working, honest player."
Based on his coach's reaction to the suspension, Rome isn't likely to be asked to change his game.
"In my opinion, it's not the right call," Vigneault said. "We're real disappointed the player got hurt, but it was a north/south play. It was a little bit late. But anybody that's played this game knows that you have to make a decision in a fraction of a second. He's engaged in the hit. I don't know how the league could come up with that decision really."
Actually, it should be much harder to understand how anyone could come up with a way to defend such a hit, blame the victim and still look at themselves in the mirror.
What are your thoughts on the Canucks defending Rome and shifting blame to Horton?