Surprise surprise. Radko Gudas made Tough Call before the season is even underway.  The Philadelphia Flyer defenceman is a regular here for his habitual over the line hits.  But this time many are saying he’s innocent.  The blame is being placed on the shoulders (or back) of New York Rangers up and comer Jimmy Vesey. I always wonder why it has to be one or the other.

The incident happened in a Monday night pre-season game.

Video: SPORTSNETCANADA

On Tuesday the NHL Department Of Player Safety chose not to even have a hearing, chalking it up to a lesson for the youngster in taking a hit.

I agree Vesey turned his back and tried to make a last second escape move that failed. He played his part in making this hit more dangerous. But that’s an important, specifically chosen phrase. Vesey made the hit more dangerous. He isn’t to blame for the hit. He had no part in making the hit in general.

Radko Gudas is the only reason the hit happened. Without him, there’d be no hit at all.

That’s why this is still Gudas’s fault.

A hit isn’t something to be thrown or finished. A hit happens when the defensive player has such a good angle that the offensive player runs out of room and skates into him, essentially checking himself. That’s the spirit of a body check. Any extra force, thrust, or lunge is unnecessary if you’re actually playing good positional defense. Gudas started this play by taking a great angle. He had Vesey on a course to the corner, matched his speed and stayed at a slight angle behind him. If Vesey had kept going in a straight line Gudas would have guided him into the boards and both players would have been fine. It was a standard hockey play.

Vesey chose to turn at the last second. He tried to change direction and speed to avoid the hit. If he had gotten away with it we’d be saying how shifty he is and raving about how big bad defencemen are going to be in tough to handle this guy, etc. Insert grossly exaggerating click bait headline here. It’s a risk he took and it didn’t pan out for him. Lesson learned.

But we shouldn’t be so quick to let Gudas off the hook.

Any defender playing properly should be in more control than he was. Sure his stick was down, his hands were down, he even had two hands on his stick. He never picked his feet up and he glided low into the hit. He shows all the signs of intending to deliver a clean hit to the right shoulder. But Gudas as a defender had given Vesey no way to avoid a hit if he kept going. He has to be smart enough to anticipate a move by the puck carrier to try and take the only available escape route. He has to know that’s a possibility should be able to make a hockey play if it does happen. This is the proof that Gudas didn’t go into the situation thinking about eliminating Vesey’s puck options and gaining possession. If he had, then when Vesey turned he would have reacted and pounced on his stick.  Instead, he went into that situation with only one thing in mind: hit hit hit. That’s why he couldn’t stop. And that’s what makes this leave the category of “hockey play” and enter into the category of “predatory hit”. This goes back to the mantra I mentioned earlier: a hit isn’t something to be thrown or finished. The common argument is to say “how could he stop himself at the last second?” or “how could he react once he was committed to throwing the check?”. If that’s your defence it shows there’s a point where you have no control over the outcome of a hit, and by NHL standards that onus ALWAYS falls to the hitter. Also, the league was very quick to lay blame on Vesey for changing his body position at the last second, but Gudas does the exact same thing. Remember, he was expecting to make his hit at the point Vesey would have been. Vesey stopped short. So in theory Gudas should have hit an empty spot on the boards just in front of Vesey. Instead, he changed course as well and turned into the boards to make absolutely sure he hits every last piece. There is no effort to lessen the blow, and every effort to intentionally maximize it.

So why then does Vesey share any blame at all? Because as I said, he did make the hit more dangerous. Vesey makes his sudden move  in that classic danger zone of 1-2 feet away from the boards. He takes serious injury from mild possibility to an almost certainty.

So if bailing out is high risk and carrying on means a definite hit, what was he supposed to do? Sometimes a guy plays great defence against you and that’s the way it is. But this is where people also get it wrong. They’re saying he should have sucked it up and taken the hit. “Welcome to the show, kid”. This attitude isn’t acceptable.

Picture this hit how it should have played out according to that logic. Vesey carries on down the boards and Gudas throws himself into the hit as hard as he can with extra force. Vesey is a foot away from the boards and gets crumpled with the shoulder check. He collapses in a heap with a broken collar bone and concussion like symptoms. No good. Why would anyone voluntarily take that chance???

Now picture this exact same hit without Vesey. Gudas skates along the boards, then throws himself shoulder first into the boards as hard as he can with extra force. He then bounces off the boards awkwardly and goes down in an embarrassed heap. This happens 4 times a game for a month and he never plays in the NHL again. How can we make this a reality?

Coaches, parents, teach your kids something that may one day save their bones, their necks, and their brains: become the boards. Get them to repeat that phrase. If Vesey stays tight to the boards and keeps skating, pressing right against them at impact, reckless players like Gudas will always bounce off. If you do this then the harder a player tries to hit you, the harder and farther they’ll bounce off. The boards takes all the impact and you don’t feel a thing. Yes, the really good players who can actually skate and play defence will pin you properly and chances are you’ll lose the puck, but those players come in with more control and you’ll have more time to decide when to turn back to avoid it because they’ll be trying to take your hands and stick away as well. With these players, once you do turn and if you don’t happen to make it, all that will happen is you’ll be safely and legally pressed against the boards from behind with no chance of injury at all.

Thats why there’s not much hitting in the Olympics and the World Cup and all the best on best tournaments. Because the really skilled smart defending players play proper positional defence and only finish the necessary checks, and skilled smart attacking players take other options long before the hit takes place.

If you want to get dangerous players out of the game, take them out of the game by making smarter choices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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