The Chicago Blackhawks' Ben Smith is still dealing with the physical ramifications of the shoulder-to-head blow at 5:26 of the third period in Wednesday's 4-3 victory over the visiting Detroit Red Wings. Meanwhile, the Red Wings' Brendan Smith is dealing with the punitive aftereffects of the collision -- not to mention his own remorse over what happened.
Brendan Smith, a top prospect, was suspended on Friday morning by NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan for the rest of Detroit's preseason games and five regular-season games, without pay. The hit he delivered landed his right shoulder directly to Ben Smith's head, which left the Chicago forward sprawled on the ice for a couple of minutes.
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Smith has accepted fault for the incident and has expressed remorse for what happened.
"It's a very fast play with both of us going full-speed," said Smith, a puck-moving defenseman Detroit took in the first round (No. 27) of the 2007 Entry Draft. "It's a tough play, but obviously, I was never targeting his head. I feel terrible about the outcome of what happened and I actually got in touch with (Ben Smith) and just apologized and said, 'In no intentions did I try to do that.'"
Brendan Smith said he was just reacting -- albeit a step late -- to a pass Ben Smith collected behind him.
"I was just trying to outplay that man, and try to make sure that he didn't get to the net and not let him score," said Brendan Smith, who came to training camp hoping to earn a roster spot in Detroit. "Obviously, some things can go wrong and that was the worst possible thing that could happen."
Smith said his angle while cutting toward the Hawks forward was poor because he was scrambling to prevent a breakaway against goalie Ty Conklin. Instead of hitting the body, his shoulder hit the side of the head squarely as Ben Smith made a deke to the middle of the ice.
"It's a high-risk play when someone tries to cut to the middle," Brendan Smith said. "It's not an illegal play on him, and actually, he made a great move. I was actually trying to catch him, because he kind of had a step. I'm going to have to learn from this, for sure. The game moves very quickly. I'm going to have to adjust to it and make sure that I'm in the right place at the right time, so that will never happen (again)."
A few minutes after the hit, Ben Smith was helped to his feet and he skated off with assistance. Meanwhile, after a few Hawks players gave Brendan Smith an earful, the young blueliner was assessed a match penalty and game misconduct.
Almost instantly, debate began between the two teams.
Chicago's players and coach Joel Quenneville said it was clearly an illegal hit, while Detroit coach Mike Babcock openly wondered what the onus was for puck-carriers to protect themselves.
"I was just trying to outplay that man, and try to make sure that he didn't get to the net and not let him score. Obviously, some things can go wrong and that was the worst possible thing that could happen." -- Brendan Smithabcock said after the game that Ben Smith had his head down as he cut to the middle, but replays show him with his head up as the shoulder makes impact -- which Shanahan referenced as a talking point in his video explanation of the suspension.
Babcock's opinion, however, remained largely the same on Friday.
"I still believe when you're a left-handed guy (like Brendan Smith), chasing the guy and you put your stick down on the puck … so, stick-on-stick, body-on-body … and the guy pulls back -- he's got some responsibility in this area, as well," Babcock said. "In saying that, we're not condoning anyone getting hit in the head with someone's shoulder or any of that. (Brendan's) going to learn from this and move on."
Babcock, Brendan Smith and Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland each felt the suspension was "excessive," but some of Ben Smith's teammates thought it wasn't enough.
Veteran Hawks power forward Jamal Mayers echoed the 10-game sentiment and also shared his personal rule of thumb about delivering hits, which is a big part of his game as a checking-line forward.
"My own personal rule is if I can't get at least half of the body, I don't hit the guy," Mayers said. "What happens is you stick out a knee, an elbow or even your shoulder and you get a piece of someone. So either you're going to get hurt or you're going to hurt someone else. Try to get at least half of the body."
Both Smiths are paying the price of that tough lesson now. One illegal hit has taken a toll on both guys involved.
Depending on how long Ben Smith is out, it might cost him the chance to start the season on the Hawks' active roster. Detroit's Smith was assigned to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League and will be considered a "repeat offender" by the NHL if there are future incidents involving him. He also will carry that five-game suspension around in the minors. It's five NHL games that will have to be served upon any future call up.
"(The suspension) ruined my chances of being up here for the start of the season," Brendan Smith said. "I kind of canceled myself out there, but it's alright. They told me that I'll get my chances (in Detroit). We'll just have to deal with this first. It's a maturity thing that I'm going to have to learn from."