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Tencer's Blog: A Hockey Play?

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
Raffi Torres is escorted off the ice after receiving his five-minute major penalty for his elbow on Jordan Eberle (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club).

Yesterday, the NHL handed down a four game suspension to Vancouver Canucks forward, and former Oiler, Raffi Torres, for his hit on Jordan Eberle this past Tuesday. On the play, Eberle had left himself vulnerable as he extended his body to reach for a puck in the corner, and Torres took advantage by coming in from an angle and driving his bicep into Eberle's head.

It's the type of hit that we've seen Raffi Torres make before; remember Milan Michalek in the 2006 playoffs? Except, it's not 2006 any more. The hit, which I readily admit was done without an extended elbow or a charge, nevertheless represents a textbook definition of what the league wants eradicated from the game.

The hit is a lesson for young Eberle to not leave himself open to hits like that, to not allow himself to be placed in such a vulnerable position. The suspension, however, also sends the message that it's no longer acceptable in the NHL to prey on an especially vulnerable target.

On the play, Torres had beaten Eberle to the puck, and could just have easily made a play with it in the offensive zone and gone on with the game (note: Eberle didn't have the puck on the play). He chose instead to deliberately initiate body contact to the head of an opponent, which, simply put, is no longer considered a "hockey play" by the league.

With all we know now about concussions and brain injuries and the damage that head shots can cause, the league is, rightfully, stepping up to send a message that these types of plays put players in serious peril and will not be tolerated.

Torres remarked after the game that he thought it was a clean hit and that he needs to make those types of plays to keep his job in the league. With due respect, that's exactly the mindset that needs to change. In years past, it was absolutely true. Now? Exactly the opposite. Making those kind of hits is what is going to cost him his job, not the other way around. It's another sign in the ongoing culture shift of the NHL, one that'll happen faster when teams get on board.

The Vancouver Canucks, and GM Mike Gillis, spoke up loudly yesterday in defense of their player and the hit. I don't remember them being very vocal in defense of Steve Moore when he hit Markus Naslund with a check that I'd actually say was less vicious than the one Torres threw at Eberle. And, until teams...all teams...get on board with the changing NHL philosophy, things aren't going to change as much as they need to. Good on the NHL for sending a message. Here's hoping the Canucks and Raffi Torres receive it.


Speaking of the Canucks, let me take you back to the Ottawa Senators expansion year in 1992. Current Canucks associate coach Rick Bowness was the head coach in their inaugural year and current Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault was one of his assistants. The other assistant was EJ McGuire, a name perhaps not familiar to many fans, but one known by everyone inside the hockey community. He spent a lot of time coaching in his past years, but I knew him as the Director of NHL Central Scouting.

The tall man with the mustache always had a smile on his face, never declined an interview, and could only fit so many conversations into a day because he seemingly never wanted to end one. EJ was an invaluable resource to many, including myself as the draft has become a central focus in the Oilers' rebuild.

I had spoken to EJ  a couple of times prior to the calendar changing to 2011, but the last time I saw him was at last year's draft in Los Angeles. After wrapping up Day two on Saturday, EJ grabbed me as I was walking by him in a corridor at Staples Center and said, "your boys just pulled off one heck of a couple of days", referring to the caliber of the 11 players that the Oilers had selected. That was high praise from a man with a natural instinct for hockey talent.

The news yesterday, that EJ had passed away at 58 years old due to cancer, shocked me. I talked to my friend Pierre McGuire later in the day, and he said a select few in the hockey community had found out about three weeks ago that EJ didn't have long to live. I spent some time reminiscing and listening to old stories about EJ that Pierre had, and did the same with Oilers coach Tom Renney and Edmonton Journal scribe John Mackinnon yesterday.

The best story I heard was back in '92 when the Senators were just breaking into the league, they didn't have much going for them. One day, they arrived at their practice facility in Kanata to find that thieves had stolen all of their video equipment. As EJ discovered that the equipment was gone, but the tapes of their games had been left behind, he remarked: "at least we know the thieves have some taste".

An extremely well respected man in hockey circles, and as genuine a person as you'll find, EJ McGuire will be greatly missed.

Author: Dan Tencer

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