A few times throughout the season, randomly, there’s a night where it feels like hockey players across the league lose their mind. It’s like a hive mentality, perhaps when the banality of the regular season sinks in or becomes too much to deal with and they have to break out in the only way they know how: trying to maim each other. Other players are the closest target to let out one’s frustration, to be fair.
We’ll start in Winnipeg, where the worst of the mayhem occurred. Perhaps hockey always caters to its worst demographics given the taste both have for vigilante justice. Which was the root of the Jets and Leafs madness. It started when Neal Pionk (“Pionk” being the sound you make when your dog steps on your balls), kneed Rasmus Sandin on a rush.
This is bad, and the league really needs to punish these kinds of hits more heavily in-game. One, because they can cause serious, career-altering injuries and two, if they don’t then players are going to take it into their own hands to mete out the justice they felt they haven’t received. Players take kneeing very seriously because of the injuries they can cause. Whether Pionk meant to do this or not is irrelevant, even if the urge is to say he realized he was beat to the middle and just reacted. It’s dangerous. It has to be noted that Pionk didn’t even get a penalty for this, which directly caused the utter assault that came later.
Which would be Jason Spezza deciding he had to take matters into his own hands:
Also, somehow, Spezza wasn’t penalized for this either, though he is getting an in-person hearing for it, which means hockey remains the only sport where you can be suspended more than five games for something the refs on the ice completely ignored because they’re spineless or just enjoy having a front row seat to a pit fight.
There is nothing redeemable about what Spezza does here, and he should see at least 10 games for this. He waits until Pionk is as vulnerable as possible, can’t see him coming at all, and then aims directly for the head. Yes, kneeing can cause ACL or MCL tears. Those can be repaired and one’s life is pretty much the same after. We can’t say the same for major head injuries. This is the height of chickenshit, no matter how much Leafs fans and Don Cherry acolytes are pleasuring themselves to the replay of this today. This isn’t “standing up for a teammate.” This is vigilante justice on the ice, a direct attempt to not just injure an opponent but to do so in a major way. How long is the NHL going to let this kind of thing go on?
To repeat, this wouldn’t have happened if the refs had taken care of this, instead they let players police themselves, which always makes it worse. Pionk should have had a major penalty, which really should have been enough for the Leafs. By not doing anything at all, the refs only enraged the Leafs more, opening the door to murderous intent from the likes of Spezza.
Strangely, this wasn’t the only controversy on the night, as the best player on the planet, Connor McDavid, got in on the fun in Edmonton against the Kings:
McDavid did get the five minute penalty and game misconduct for this (that Spezza and Pionk somehow avoided). Which doesn’t mean that McDavid was treated unfairly. This hit was pointless and dangerous as well. Adrian Kempe didn’t have the puck, was facing the glass, couldn’t protect himself, and essentially McDavid just took a free shot. McDavid can claim it was an accident, but we know the truth. Again, this can cause head injury for no reason whatsoever other than McDavid felt like it.
Just another night in the NHL, where the malaise sometimes turns violent just so any of these guys can feel anything during the endless slog of the 82 games.