Decision, statement & impact
By Derek Jory
In the process of the Vancouver Canucks losing 8-1 to the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday night, both the Canucks and Bruins also suffered personnel losses.
Five minutes into Game 3, Zdeno Chara fed Nathan Horton a pass as he skated over the Bruins logo at centre ice, the Boston forward then dished off to Milan Lucic, to his right. Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome then stepped up and leveled Horton at Vancouver’s blueline with a hit that was and wasn’t late and was and wasn’t dirty, depending on who you ask.
NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy deemed it to be a late hit; he combined that ruling with the injury Horton suffered to suspend Rome for four games, making him ineligible to return to the rest of the Stanley Cup Final.
“It caused a serious injury to Nathan Horton,” Murphy told the media Tuesday. “So the key components are: the late hit, which I had it close to a second late. We have our own formula at NHL Hockey Operations for determining late hits, and it was late. We saw the seriousness of the injury with Nathan on the ice last night.
“That's basically what we deliberated on. We tried to compare it with some of the other ones in the past, but it stands alone. It's why we made the ruling.”
The four-game suspension is the longest in NHL Final history; all three incidences preceding this resulted in one-game fines.
The Canucks went to bat for Rome after an optional skate at Walter Brown Arena at Boston University, which was attended by nine players.
Before even discussing the incident, coach Alain Vigneault made it clear the thoughts and prayers of the organization are with Horton.
“At the end of the day, we hope that the young man regains his health,” said Vigneault. “That's the utmost importance.”
Vigneault, like all seven Canucks who addressed the media post-practice, took the same stance on that and the fact that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
“In my opinion, it's not the right call,” said coach. “We've had instances just in the San Jose series, and Aaron was the player, where he's facing the boards and he gets hit, there's no suspension there. Eager's hit on Danny in my mind, where again he's facing the boards, doesn't get hurt, could have serious consequences. In my opinion, those were two suspendable offenses that weren't.
“Last night, very unfortunate that hit turned bad. We're real disappointed the player got hurt. But it was a north/south play. It was a little bit late. But anybody that's played this game knows that you have to make a decision in a fraction of a second. He's engaged in the hit. I don't know how the league could come up with that decision really.
“Aaron isn't a dirty player, never has been, never will be. It was a hit that unfortunately turned bad.”
Aaron Rome did not speak to the media and coach Vigneault made it clear that Rome is “very emotional” and “very disappointed” right now.
According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Rome sent Horton a text saying that his intent was never to injure the Bruins forward. Rome went into further detail in a statement released through the Canucks.
“I want to express my concern for Nathan's well being and wish him a quick and full recovery. I try to play this game honestly and with integrity. As someone who has experienced this type of injury I am well aware of its serious nature and have no desire for another player to experience it. I will not take away my teammates' focus on the task at hand and intend to speak at an appropriate time in future.”
Three games down, two defencemen down for the Canucks.
First Dan Hamhuis suffered an undisclosed injury in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, now Aaron Rome is ineligible to play for the remainder of the series.
The good news for the Canucks is that the regular season was essentially a dress rehearsal for a situation like this.
It wasn’t until the final game of the year that Vancouver was able to dress its top six defencemen and now that changes need to be made again, the Canucks are ready.
“As a team we have to make sure we pick up the slack and everybody contributes a bit more,” said Keith Ballard, who could draw into the lineup for Game 4, but hasn’t been told if he’s playing.
“We have to use our depth. We’ve gone through different situations all year with guys in and out of the lineup with a number of different injuries and this situation is similar in that we’re losing a guy who has been playing a lot of big minutes for us in an important role. We all have to do a little bit more now.”
During the season the Canucks dressed 12 defencemen that played at least three games and through 21 playoff games, nine blueliners have already suited up, with Chris Tanev playing the least at two games.
Playing between the whistles
Pushing, shoving and finger taunting was the norm during Game 3 and the Canucks admit they need to be better at remaining more composed.
Vancouver was assessed 70 penalty minutes, the most in at least the team’s last 65 playoff games; the Canucks and Bruins combined for 145 penalty minutes.
“We’ve addressed that,” said Manny Malhotra, matter-of-factly.
“We’re not going to feed the animosity after whistles, we’re not going to gain anything from it and obviously the refs have started to crack down on the nonsense after the whistles. Our focus again is playing between the whistles.”
Malhotra said the Canucks know the extracurricular activity needs to stop, but it’s tough to get caught up in it as the series progresses and emotions run higher and higher.
“As the series goes on the rivalry and the animosity grows and I think that was an affect of being in the playoffs last night, you see a lot more hostility between one another, but we’ve cleaned that up and we realize where our focus needs to be right now.”