Jake Guentzel of the Pittsburgh Penguins took a massive hit on Tuesday night from Rasmus Ristolainen of the Buffalo Sabres. The collision occurred at 8:46 of the first period. Guentzel was bloodied and clearly shaken, and has since been diagnosed with a concussion.
This is just the latest episode in the NHL’s struggle to reduce violent head shots, but is this particular incident worthy of a suspension?
When I first watched it I wasn’t so sure. If Guentzel had been eligible to be hit I’d have no real problem with it. The extreme lateness of the hit was what drew the initial penalty, rightly identified as interference, not checking to the head or charging.
Now, because the hit was illegal, that’s when on ice officials get to take into account the seriousness of the injury and the force of the blow. This can’t honestly be looked at as anything other than a violent collision causing serious injury. It’s a textbook 5 minutes and a game.
Supplementary discipline is the same story. Again, only once the hit is deemed suspension worthy can they take into account injury and violence of impact to increase the length of punishment. So is there anything in the actual hit?
As I said, if Guentzel had been eleigible to be hit I’d be agreeing with Sabres fans. I would have said “good” hit that wasn’t overly excessive.
He wasn’t eligible though. You have to remember that. Therefore the onus on Ristolainen isn’t to throw the safest possible hit while still making contact. The onus is to do everything possible to avoid contact.
The only excuse (and a popular one in a lot of other cases) is he was committed to the hit. Bullshit. I don’t say that just in this case.
*start PSA: The whole excuse of being committed to a hit is bullshit at any time. When done right, a body check needs to be controlled. If you give up so much control over yourself that you can’t hold back a little bit, you’re doing it wrong. Contact may be unavoidable past a certain point, but the type of contact should be controlled at all times. It’s too late for this generation of players, but coaches, parents, please stop teaching or encouraging players to lunge forward into a check. Please get them to angle into a check. And while you’re at it, please stop calling it a hit. Refer to it as a check. Thank you. End PSA*
Ristolainen actually did have very good control. He took a great angle of approach. He set himself up to meet Guentzel on his path and let Guentzel run into him. It was going to be perfect. But then he made the unfortunate decision to turn in to Guentzel.
In a regular situation where Guentzel is in control of the puck, this still wouldn’t be a horrifically massive problem because he didn’t do anything overly malicious as far as elbows or stick up or anything. He did, however, make the hit unnecessarily forceful with that last second turn. Again, where it was already an illegal hit, this IS a horrifically massive problem.
He had time to turn away. He had time to avoid the check altogether. If he had just stayed in his lane and kind of let the hit happen, that would have been 5 and a game and done. But not only does he allow contact to happen without avoiding it. He goes out of his way to not avoid it. He turns into it.
An already illegal hit made even worse by the actions of the hitter needs more than just an on ice penalty, ejection or not. This is a two game suspension.