NHL Game

This one is a bit of a departure from the mainstream world, to focus on an event in sports. To put this in context, this is a sport that I have played, coached, and officiated since I was a wee lad. I have played and coached at moderately high levels within the sport, and I am still playing and coaching 50+ years after starting.

During Monday night’s game between the New York Rangers, and the Washington Capitals a fairly standard “scrum” occurred after the end of the play. The genesis of the event has a hard play in front of the Washington net where several players made contact, and one fell across the arm and stick of the Capital’s Tom Wilson, pulling him down to the ice. Mr. Wilson took exception to this, and after disengaging his hand from underneath Buchnevich game him a bit of a punch to his shoulders and head. Really, not a big deal. But, this is Tom Wilson and the Rangers initiated their scrum to “protect” their guy.

Let’s stop here for a second and provide a bit of background. Tom Wilson is a talented NHL player. He isn’t a superstar but he has earned his role as a top 6 forward with the Caps. Mr. Wilson also plays the game physically hard. He is a prototypical “power forward” and is a large man. As a result of his physicality, there have been incidents in his career that have resulted in his being suspended previously, and in fairness some of those incidents were not good decisions on his part. The man has a history of physicality, is listed as 6′ 4″ and 220 lbs. He is a professional athlete in a physical sport, and has the strength that you would expect from a man in this profession.

From this clip you can see the events that take place. It’s a five minute clip where the first 30 secs are all that really matter. Ignore the commentators who have their own bias.

Buchnevich is in the crease and gets knocked to the ice, falling across Wilson’s stick and trapping his arm beneath his body, Honestly, given Buchnevich’s body position, I think he might be unconscious as he does nothing to protect himself from faceplanting on the ice. Wilson gives him a shove and then grabs him by the sweater to turn him. At that point Strome dives in to pull off Wilson and the scrum starts. Wilson is still in a scrum when Panarin jumps on his back.

Artemi Panarin is a slightly built player whose game is built around speed and evasiveness. At best he is 5′ 11″ and listed at 170 lbs. He is not a physical player, and this was not a battle for him to be engaged in.

Panarin jumps on his back, and Wilson just stands up with him on his back like a child. Some other guys scrum it up and Wilson is trying to get past Panarin to others. He has no idea who that blue shirt is. He finally goes to the ice with him and throws a couple punches. Gets up and tries to throw him back to the ice and out of the way. Falls onto Panarin again and the pile on starts. The entire incident is less than 40 seconds. During which there are four to five different scrums and the five seconds where Panarin is fighting above his weight class.

This is hockey. Get over it. There was no malicious targeting going on. Panarin was an idiot. The officials did what they were supposed to do, the players pretty much did what they should have done (easy to arm chair quarter back this one), and the league did what they should have done. Arguably they over-fined Wilson for the incident.

No sticks flying at people, no chasing players or spectators in the stands. No targeted hits to the head or knees.

Honestly, if Strome hadn’t jumped in on Wilson in the crease this probably devolves into shouting and name calling.

The Ranger organization on the other hand has taken it upon themselves to crucify the league and Wilson in the media. The Ranger’s need to get over themselves. Their team is built around young men that have not yet reached their physical prime. They are building around speed and skill without the physicality necessary to play the game. As a result the management team takes to the airwaves to crucify the league and the Department of Player Safety because they have built their team without having physical players. It is funny to listen to the commentators “how do the Rangers respond”? The suggestions of pulling players up from the minors just to be goons. Ridiculous. Play the game. Keep the incident in mind and when the time is right, then take appropriate action.

I will count myself as an expert on this topic and say, Wilson’s actions were appropriate for the game of hockey. It is horrific to see Panarin thrown around like he was but, there are consequences to actions and Panarin chose poorly. The coaches always told us, if the gloves come off and you are not involved your job is to pair off with someone and just keep things even. A youngster like Panarin that is coming from Russia probably never had the benefit of that advice.