Zach Sill of the Washington Capitals has been given a two game suspension from the NHL Department of Player Safety for what is now being called boarding on Boston’s Adam McQuaid. This is one of the most important hits I’ve analyzed so far because it demonstrates so much about how important decision making is for player safety. When you look at it once in real time, it’s easy to walk away and say it’s a no brainer. It’s clearly from behind, numbers the whole way, and head into the glass. Wreckless! The (Boston) announcer in the clip even tells all his viewers that. But if you look at the seconds leading up to the hit its easy to see how this play could have ended very differently but for a last second choice.
Sill skates through the face off circle in a straight line to just above the top hash mark where the contact takes place. He never once waivers from his path. That’s important. He lines himself up with Mcquaid’s left shoulder (closest to him and farthest up the ice) because he wants to be in front of Mcquaid to cut him off from going up the boards with the puck, and takes the best course of action to do it. This is angling 101.
Mcquaid is a right shot, which is also important because he would be more likely to be opened up and side on with Sill in the act of either shooting or skating the puck up the boards.
Mcquaid gives every indication that he’s going straight into the boards on the same path. However, everyone knows that he would have to at some point turn up the ice and into the very spot that Sill has correctly determined will be the meeting point. It’s basically a foot race to see if Mcquaid will be able to turn that corner before Sill gets there, but Sill wins the race and McQuaid has to make choice now. He either sucks it up and takes a hit in the act of shooting the puck up the ice, turns away from Sill and skates to the corner, or eats the puck, takes a hit, and then tries to win a battle. This is also hockey 101. Sill is obviously committed to the hit. He’s made his path very clear, he never alters course, and he’s set for clean impact with his hands down. His right (back shoulder) is lined up beautifully to finish on Mcquaid’s left shoulder right up until the last second.
That’s when Mcauaid comes to the realization that he’s about to become a board advertisement. Of all the choices listed above he appears to choose to eat the puck and fight the battle. But instead of turning slightly out of the hit and getting close to the boards to absorb the hit, he turns almost 180 degrees and backs up the ice into Sill’s direct path.
On some replays it looks like Sill was following Mcquaid directly on the numbers the whole time, but if that was truly the case there is no way Sill would have won the race. Mcquaid would have turned the corner up ice and Sill would be chasing. Like I said, in the several seconds leading up to the hit Sill had his right (back) shoulder lined up with Mcquaid’s left (front) shoulder. In the one second before impact, Mcquaid alters his position so much that he’s almost looking back at the corner and Sill makes contact back on his right shoulder, an entire body width of difference. This is not enough time for Sill to back out of his hit, so he folds his arms down and braces himself. There’s no extra force or push. It’s a surprised man put in a bad situation by a player who didn’t want to take a hit.
In a statement explaining the suspension, the league states “McQuaid was never eligible to be checked by Sill. From the moment the two begin pursuing the puck, Sill sees nothing but McQuaid’s numbers. While McQuaid does shift his body slightly before impact, this motion does not suddenly turn a legal hit into an illegal hit.” “While we accept Sill’s explanation that he anticipated McQuaid moving the puck up the ice, the onus here is on Sill to ensure that he can deliver this hit in a legal fashion. If not, he must avoid this hit entirely, or at the very least, minimize the force.”
In my mind, a player with the puck in between his skates who actually physically jumps over the puck and then turns his back to an opponent is well aware a hit is coming and should be deemed eligible. I’ve already said how Mcquaid did more than “slightly alter his body” prior to impact.
There was no penalty called on the ice by either official, and there shouldn’t be any extra dished out by the league. This is on Mcquaid.