The puck rattled around the boards to his corner and in one motion he batted it down the ice. A second later, a blow came to his upper chest, catching him on the chin, thrusting his head into the glass. He didn’t stagger, but he caught a number. 22.
A cross-ice attempt to hit him breaking down the right wing came in behind him. Ricocheting off the dasher, it flew over his head. Tracking it through the air, the puck moved to an area behind him. He turned his head. It was met with an elbow. He went down in a heap, was helped from the ice to the bench, he sat, slouched and then headed to the dressing room, not to be seen on the ice again that evening.
These two accounts are, no doubt, how both the Chicago Blackhawks Duncan Keith and Vancouver Canucks Daniel Sedin will recount the events of Wednesday night. In a game that had all the feel of a playoff atmosphere — the two teams have met each other in the NHL’s annual chase for glory each of the last three seasons — it was bound to happen. Something. Some talking point. You could feel it from puck drop, from check to pass, as soon as both teams hit the ice, there was always going to be something to talk about.
Two days later, you never thought it would be this.
First, a confession. I’m a Blackhawks fan. Have been since I can remember watching the game, will be until they put me in dirt. It’s often that fans can’t remove themselves from the events on the ice and call something down the middle. There’s fandom, and then there is ignorance. To say what Duncan Keith did on Wednesday night was allowable, within the boundaries of the game, fair punishment for a shot he took himself, or an accurate representation of what a player should suspect for taking liberties is asinine. Simply put, it is the exact thing that the game cannot have.
We’ve all seen the hit by now. Not Sedin’s on Keith — for though it may have been a shade of grey, it wasn’t egregious enough to warrant a suspension — but Keith’s on Sedin. There’s so many things that have been said, and the NHL has been so unjustly scrutinized for the way it has handled the manner, that it’s hard to believe they’re going to do anything. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
The hit was an elbow. Of that, we can all agree.
The hit was interference. The puck, though in the vicinity, had yet to been played by Sedin when Keith connected with his head. By definition, that is interference. Again, the argument against that would be futile.
The hit was laced with intent. This one, this took me a while to really allow myself to believe. Removing myself from any association with either team, it’s clear Keith knew what he was doing. He stared at Sedin as he approached him. He claimed gap control — does no one else think that, had Sedin gotten that puck and Keith used this as his method of controlling gap, he would have been beaten so bad we’d be asking how he ever won a Norris? — and that he was trying to do his job. He claimed he hadn’t seen the replay, and he claimed he was sorry, which is maybe the only believable thing about his tale. Sorry for the hit, or sorry that he’ll be sidelined by a suspension, of that I am unsure.
The hit was retaliatory. This is where I have some trouble, because the he said, he said and fact that it could be so readily denied by Keith is what makes Henrik Sedin’s claim of, “You should have heard what he said on the ice,” so hard to understand. It also plays a factor in what could be the NHL’s reasoning for scheduling an in-person hearing. The retaliatory nature and intent are so closely tied that it’s hard to believe that it could have been anything but.
While Keith awaits his sentencing, all I can think is that the NHL and its players maintain a mindset of vigilante justice. The two-minute minor served by Keith resulting from the hit did not quench the Canucks thirst for justice. They wanted more. They wanted to take Keith out, just as he had their mate. So they wrestled, punched, flailed and exchanged some pleasantries. The issue continues to be that, with this, there is no purpose.
This “justice” is what got Keith in trouble in the first place. This rogue-cop attitude is what put a halt to the pressure that the Canucks had mounted. The tussles and jostling led to a near halt in play. While it serves as some medium of emotion — and it certainly left me glued to my television — it has also left me wondering if it really serves any purpose.
Never would I advocate removing hitting. Nor would I advocate removing fighting. But I would stand by a harsh sentence for Keith. And I do commend the NHL — no matter how late they were at stepping to the plate — for taking Keith to task for his actions. But I think, more than anything, I’m worried about the state of a game where the respect between men is little and the needless aggression plentiful.