The hit heard all over Montreal

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

by Mike Armstrong

Boston, I love you.

I really do.

Most summers, since the year I was born, my family has vacationed in Massachusetts. As a boy, my parents took me there each year, and now that I have two sons of my own, I take them. Last summer, I actually took them twice. (With DSs and DVDs, they have no idea how long the drive can feel. I remember.)

I’ve gone to Boston for fun and for work – and I’ve never had anything but a great time.

Since we lost the Expos, I’ve cheered for the Red Sox. I’ve been a Celts fan since Larry Bird, and I pull for the Pats because I love Wes Welker. How can you not?

I have a friendly respect for the Bruins. Your city has a strong hockey culture – perhaps a touch rougher than ours in Montreal – but I admire the passion for our game. (I say “our game” in the “yours and mine” sense – not in an egotistical “it’s Canada’s game” way.)

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My dad was a Bruins fan, so I grew up with the rivalry. I’ve never hated your team, just as I’ve never hated your city. There are hotheads here – no doubt – and they can be loud, but Montreal doesn’t hate the Boston Bruins either. In fact, my son just had a tournament at the Raymond Bourque Arena. It’s about 10 kilometers from our home.

Now, this past week has been painful. Where to start? Well, how about with two of your Canadians?

I’ve heard it over and over: “Where were you when Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard were almost decapitated?” Well, I don’t know anyone who thought those were legit hits. They were ugly and frightening. It’s always sickening to watch a player carted off on a stretcher.

The NHL absolutely dropped the ball on both hits. For Randy Jones to get one game, and Matt Cooke to get off with nothing, was a joke. I don’t know a hockey fan in Montreal who didn’t feel that way.

I thought David Steckel on Sidney Crosby was stupid, Brooks Orpik on Erik Cole was gross, Guillaume Latendresse on Rob DiMaio was disgusting, and Max Pacioretty on Mark Eaton absolutely crossed the line. (Ahhh…Pacioretty. I said it. Wait, we’ll come back to him.)

The NHL has a serious problem with respect. Whether it’s the money and the job, or just their competitive juices, for some reason, at times, it’s as though players don’t think of their opponents as actual living, breathing human beings. No one thinks they actually want to end someone’s life, but it sure as hell looks like it. (Cooke may be the exception.)

Now, do Montrealers care more about their own players? Are we more upset when a player with a ‘CH’ on his chest is carted off, and are we more upset if there’s no punishment? That’s another criticism I’ve heard over and over this week, and it’s 100 per cent true. It’s human nature.

When Savard went down, Boston was furious. When John Tavares went down, Islanders fans were livid (both of them). And when Crosby went down, Pittsburgh was left fuming – even Matt Cooke’s boss.

In every case, 29 other NHL cities weren’t as upset.

Hockey fans cared, but when the player isn’t from your team, you’re not as emotionally invested in him. You don’t know him as much.

Which brings us to a player Montreal does know. Yep – Max Pacioretty.

I don’t have to go into a big story running from draft day to this week. I can tell you about him in a short paragraph.

He left the ice on a stretcher in January. He was getting his nose dirty, setting a screen, took a slapshot in the chest, and crumbled. It was horrific and he went to hospital by ambulance. The next day he was at practice, and at the next game he scored two goals.

Boston, you’d love this kid. Of course, I know that’s not the case.

The shove to Zdeno Chara was dumb. Pushing the biggest player in the history of the NHL didn’t make a whole lot of sense. But was it the end of the world? NESN’s broadcasters said, “Someone is going to crush that young man’s head.” Well, NESN was right.

Here’s where I have to be a little less polite. With apologies, I don’t believe Zdeno Chara.

He said he didn’t know Pacioretty was on the ice, and didn’t know who he hit. The guy lined up for the faceoff on the right side. He expects us to believe he wasn’t aware who was on to cover him the instant the puck was dropped? It’s not possible. He expects us to believe he didn’t know who he was racing to the puck against? It’s not possible. And he expects us to believe he didn’t know whose head he ran into the turnbuckle? Not true.

If he didn’t know who it was…would he not have turned to see who it was?

Or was the conversation with Gomez: “Scott, any idea who that was? Was it your linemate?”

Chara was upset with Pacioretty for three games. He went after him after O/T in January, and he went after him the whole game in February. I really don’t think that it was just a coincidence that he got him in March.

The Montreal Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty is hit by Boston Bruins’ Zdeno Chara during a match in Montreal on March 8 in Montreal. Photos by Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press.

With Tuesday’s Habs victory, I won a Celtics cap off a friend of mine who lives in Boston. (I lost a bottle of cheap wine last month.) On Wednesday, when we spoke, he said, “If it was anyone other than that specific player hitting that specific player, I could argue it.”

Don’t blame the turnbuckle. Every rink in the NHL has stanchions. In fact, every rink in the world has stanchions. No hockey player has ever laced up his skates for a game and not had stanchions. Chara knew where he was. Players are used to stanchions.

They don’t need extra padding…they need minimal respect.

I don’t know where to end this. I have a ton of other things to say, but I’m going to have to let go at some point. I’ve never been so upset over a hockey game.

I’m not alone.

If Montrealers overreacted this week, it’s because we suffered a trauma Tuesday night. We really thought we were watching someone die. Someone we like. Someone we think we know. When my son asked me, “Daddy, is he going to die?” I had to say I didn’t know.

I’ve heard the hit described as .15 of a second. That’s not how it was lived. If felt like Pacioretty was on the ice for hours. It was physically painful to watch, and the worst part may be that as we were looking for his lips to move – searching for a sign that he was breathing – people all over the arena, and all over the city, were turning to each other and saying, “I knew he’d get him.”

Mid-afternoon, the day after the hit, we were told there was no suspension – and it hurt.

The NHL made a mistake – again. It made a mistake with Cooke, just as it made a mistake with Richards, and on and on. Don’t point at the NHL’s ruling and say it proves anything. Otherwise, you’re saying it was right on Cooke.

Is Chara dirty? No. But I don’t think there’s a Bruins fan that hasn’t seen his mean streak. The guy has a temper. Did he want to kill a fellow human being? No, but don’t think he wasn’t trying to hurt one.

So, there’s my point of view. Now I’ll try to calm down.

But geez, am I ever nervous about the next game. It’s been ugly enough.

Mike is Global National’s Quebec correspondent, based in Montreal. Follow him on Twitter: @ArmstrongGN.

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