Fraser: Looking at Ryan Smyth's hit on Chris Kunitz

Kerry Fraser
10/11/2011 12:45:23 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry Fraser wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!

Hi Kerry,
I don't know if you watched the Oiler game Sunday night, but what was with the five-minute major for Ryan Smyth?
All he did is go in and hit Kunitz and that is all - he had forward movement, but nothing in my mind for a five-minute major! Can you explain why this is a five, maybe a two at the most? Thanks!
Curtis Horvey


Congratulations Curtis - 'C'mon Ref' has selected your question from the mail bag as the very first one of the 2011-12 season for me to answer!  'First question' of the season is akin to a rookie player in the NHL scoring his first goal just like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did in that Oilers 2-1 shootout win over the Penguins that you reference. 

While you won't have a 'First Goal Puck' as a memento, I'll send you a signed copy of my book, The Final Call (which is being released in paperback by Fenn/McClelland & Stewart during the Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, November 12).

While I wasn't able to pick up the Oiler game on Sunday night, I did see the Ryan Smyth elbow on TSN SportsCentre highlights.

On the play, Ryan Smyth had released a pass along the left side boards as Chris Kunitz of the Penguins approached Smyth with moderate speed to finish a check. 

Kunitz did everything right on the attempted check; he approached from an angle, had committed to the check within a reasonable separation/distance and time lapse from Smyth's puck release, was in a glide path prior to contact.  Most importantly Kunitz was intending to utilize his shoulder to make contact with Ryan Smyth's body. As such, his hands and stick were down and there was never a question in the setup that Kunitz' intention was to make a high hit on the Oiler forward.
Seeing the Penguin player approaching, Ryan Smyth made a poor and illegal decision to defend against the impending contact. While raising his arm and stick, Smyth delivered a blow with his elbow directly to the head of Chris Kunitz.  There was no doubt that Chris Kunitz head was the principle point of contact.
Chris Kunitz' attempted body contact was a text book case as to how a player should legally finish a check. This is what we want in the game; solid body contact with hands and stick down where the shoulder makes contact to the body mass (below the neck) of his opponent.  Ryan Smyth needs to brace for the contact if he sees it coming and take the hit in an appropriate manner just like Peter Forsberg used to do. Peter would react to the impending contact by generating increased force with his shoulder and transfer this energy back at the player that was delivering the check.  More often than not, the player that attempted to make a hit on Forsberg fell to the ice from the force of the impact and Peter was never taken out of the play. I guess Forsberg subscribed to the old adage that, “The best defense is a strong Offense.”

While we are on the subject of 'giving and receiving' players have to expect and accept that hard legal hits will and need to be part of the game.  Something that really bothers me is when I see a great shoulder to shoulder, legal body check like the one that was delivered by Dion Phaneuf on Ottawa Sens rookie Stephane de Costa and then have Phaneuf defend himself again the 'Cavalry attack' that results.

The bottom line is that players must be willing to receive a check and give a check in an acceptable and legal manner.  Ryan Smyth definitely crossed the line on this one and the right call was made.

Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Smyth (Photo: Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)


(Photo: Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
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