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Fraser: Responding to hits like Bortozzo on D'Amigo

TSN.ca Staff
12/17/2013 3:06:11 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!

Hi Kerry,
 
In the Leafs/Penguins game on Monday night Rob Bortuzzo hits Jerry D'Amigo, which leads to a 2-on-1 for the Leafs. No Pens ever touched the puck and the Leafs had a clear scoring opportunity. Why would the refs blow this play dead before a shot is even taken?
 
Thanks,
Chris
 
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Kerry, during Monday night's game between Pittsburgh and Toronto, Robert Bortuzzo hit Jerry D'Amigo with a body check that appeared legal - at least to me.
 
He was assessed a two-minute minor penalty for an "illegal hit to the head." Kerry, if you look at this on the replay, D'Amigo's body was bent over, clearly in the line of Bortuzzo's shoulder. Bortuzzo did not target the head and thus should not have been assessed the penalty. To me, that hit was a clean body check.
 
I am fast becoming an anti-NHL fan if this is the direction the league is going.
 
Thanks,
Karl Sundbo
 
Chris and Karl:

When a player delivers a devastating check, especially one that makes significant contact to the head of his opponent, the referee's first and primary concern is for the safety of a player that might be in distress and require immediate medical response. Puck possession and a potential scoring opportunity become secondary when contact to the head and concussion related injuries are currently such sensitive and hot topic issues within the entire hockey community.

The sight of Jerry D'Amigo turned face down after being struck in the head by the tremendous upward velocity (video) generated through the check by Robert Bortuzzo might have even given the Officials cause to reflect on the number of times that players have been evacuated from the ice on stretchers this season. I commend the Official that blew his whistle to stop play in this situation. He was the "first responder" in providing swift medical attention to Jerry D'Amico who appeared to be in obvious distress. Whenever a player is struck in the head with significant force I believe you will see the Officials will err on the side of caution to stop the play. It was certainly good to see Jerry D'Amico return to the Leafs bench after being fully evaluated.

Karl, as much I would hate to see you become an anti-NHL fan I dislike these "legal" checks to the head even more! Far too often excuses are being made for a player that delivers a devastating hit to the head when his opponent is vulnerable. Granted, Jerry D'Amigo's posture was low as he extended to play the puck; one that Robert Bortuzzo also made a stab at with his stick. D'Amigo was certainly exposed and vulnerable to be legally checked and, as we know, must take responsibility for placing himself in this position.

This is where hits of this nature go beyond acceptable for me with regard to "player safety" issues. Why, instead of just making reasonable contact to eliminate a player or finish a check, does the current "gladiator culture" of hitting deem it necessary to knock an opponent into the outer limits of space! I don't particularly blame Robert Bortuzzo for taking the shot when it was available to him. I say this even though I deplore the fact that Bortuzzo felt the need to elevate and fully leave his skates at impact against a smaller, bent over and vulnerable opponent. Like so many players today, Robert Bortuzzo likely believes that's what's expected of him; even when his opponent's head is vulnerable. This mindset has become second nature and instinctive for today's players. It must be altered.

I place much of the blame on the keepers of the game for letting this excessive culture of hitting perpetuate over time and consistently erode an ever declining respect players demonstrate toward their opponent! Many around the 'keepers table' will deem this just another "good hockey play" as they hand out suspensions in an attempt to hold players accountable and make "better decisions" in dangerous situations. It will take a greater effort to derail this runaway train wreck because the train left the station years ago.

Stephane Richer shared with me a valuable lesson that he learned from Hall of Fame defenceman Larry Robinson in a pre-season game in Richer's rookie year with the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs were playing the Oilers in Northlands Coliseum when Richer cross-checked Oilers captain Lee Fogolin in front of the net. As Fogolin then pursued a loose puck behind the net, Richer hit Fogolin right in the numbers driving the veteran player face first into the boards. Fogolin turned and the two players fought.

Stephane Richer was feeling pretty good about the outcome of the fight and his contribution as a rookie player. He did what he thought was expected of him. Richer was even expecting high-fives from his teammates upon his return to the Habs bench after serving the major penalty for fighting. Instead of a pat on the back, Larry Robinson had a heart to heart talk with young Mr. Richer on the Canadiens bench.

Robinson explained to the rookie that to earn respect around the NHL he must show respect toward his opponents. The great Larry Robinson continued the lesson by adding, whenever a player's numbers were exposed which placed the opponent in a dangerous or vulnerable position you don't hit him with any force. At times like that just do what is necessary to contain your opponent. Robinson suggested Richer would earn more respect for playing that way!

I hope it isn't too late for this lesson to be instilled in the present generation of NHL players. All aboard! 

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser


Kerry Fraser is an analyst for the NHL on TSN and That's Hockey 2Nite on TSN2. As one of the league's most recognizable senior referees, he's worked 1,904 NHL regular season games and 261 playoff games during his 37-year career.


Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!


You can also follow Kerry Fraser on Twitter at @kfraserthecall!

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