Mike Weber didn’t earn a hearing for his boarding major against Bryan Rust late in Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
This is a free pass the NHL Department of Player Safety will no doubt come to regret.
Rust entered the Capitals zone chasing after a loose puck, which he caught up with between the top of the circle and the hashmarks, in that dangerous lane about three feet from the boards. There was never any doubt Rust was going to be first to the puck, so any arguments about a puck battle go out the window.
In almost every single instance in history of players gaining possession of the puck in this position, they either skate down to the corner, or they do a tight turn delay toward the boards. It’s in the puck protection for dummies guidebook.
The defence for dummies guidebook explains how to take away the middle of the ice and halt forward progress, forcing the player to turn back. Give Weber a check and a check so far.
Once that player does turn, yes you do pursue and pressure. Yes, you can even finish a check on a guy, but there’s a way to do it.
Hits from behind, legal ones, are actually common place. They happen every single game. But they are done in such a way that the hitter guides the victim into the boards, upright, with steady, but light and predictable force. The hitter is in full control of himself and the situation.
The giveaway here for Weber isn’t so much what happens during the hit, but immediately after.
Video: Shrewd Canadian
You could debate about whether he had time to back out of the hit once his choice to hit was made. I think he did, and he could have avoided the situation altogether. But even if he didn’t and was fully committed to the hit, there is no way he didn’t know he was going to force Rust into the boards in such a way that he couldn’t defend himself. This is where Weber has to make a respectful choice to guide Rust in gently.
After Weber makes contact, he has such little control of himself that he goes stumbling over Rust and ends up hitting himself. You can’t tell me that’s because Rust ducked, or turned. It’s only because Weber went it with such wreckless momentum, obviously not caring what happened to anyone beyond the moment of impact.
This isn’t about suspending for injury or no injury, or about from behind or blindside. It’s about suspending based on the mentality of the players and the factors they consider in moments when they decide when and how to hit a fellow player.
This missed educational opportunity is dumbfounding.