Habs vs Jets – Concussion, intimidation and protection

If you had told me last week that I would be writing about hockey twice this week, I would have guffawed loudly and said “Me? Writing about hockey? I’m no sports commentator!”, given you a derisory look to remind you of my lack of sporting knowledge and returned to my chick lit choice to consolidate this opinion.

But here I am, once again talking about hockey, the sport that Canada is so passionate about and it would appear that my transition into a Canadian is almost complete as I feel quite passionately about it as well at the moment.

The title of this blog reads like West Side Story crossed with the Mafia and, let me tell you, the world of hockey can be just as dramatic as anything Leonard Bernstein or Martin Scorsese could cook up.

What has prompted me to write today though has less to do with hockey and more about the way that we treat people and seeing a video of a man struggling with his emotions because his family are being persecuted because of his actions, made me feel a whole load of things, but mainly, a bit angry.

As you may know, it is the best time of the year for hockey as we have reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs (play offs? I can’t decide). My team, the Montreal Canadiens are through to the next round and are now playing the Winnipeg Jets. Their first game against each other was on Wednesday night and it was a great game except for one rather nasty incident which happened in the last minute. This involved Mark Scheifele of the Jets challenging Jake Evans of the Canadiens at full speed and with intent, and causing Evans to become knocked out on the ice.

Scheifele’s collision with Evans

It was bad.

Montreal Canadiens’ Jake Evans (71) is protected as he lies motionless on the ice after getting hit by Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele (55) during third period NHL Stanley Cup hockey action in Winnipeg, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

This is nothing new in hockey. Full body checks are part of the contact involved in the sport especially on the boards and if every incident of hard bodily contact was commented on during a hockey game, well, not a lot of hockey would get played. There certainly wouldn’t be any flow to the game.

But seeing a player prostrate on the ice, inert despite the fact that time has passed and hearing the hush in the arena as everyone realises that something serious has happened – well, I don’t exaggerate when I say that it chills the blood.

I have been at a live hockey game when this has happened to a Habs player called P.K. Subban, some time ago now. He got hit hard, landed on the ice, wasn’t moving and had to be stretchered off. It was awful and we were all concerned about it.

In the most recent game, Evans had just scored a goal to make it 5-3 to the Habs, a opportunistic take on an empty net, especially great as it was his birthday as well. In response, Scheifele gifted him a stretchering off and was rewarded for his generosity with an immediate trip to the locker room. With a minute to go, this didn’t factor an awful lot in the game.

Concussion was the best prognosis, broken back or neck at worst, I would think, due to the way that Evans landed. It has been announced since that Evans has a concussion and will be out of the team for some time.

On Thursday, I looked to find out, what, if anything will be done about Scheifele and debated this with my good friend, Mark who still plays hockey and knows a lot about these things. He thought that Scheifele was wrong in what he did because he wasn’t going for the puck – his intent was to hit Evans, at speed, with force. He achieved his objective but at what cost? The cost to Evans – a concussion and the consequences of that; the end to the hockey season; no playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, every hockey player’s dream. The cost to Scheifele – a suspension maybe? Missing out on playing for his team? Losing out on the playoffs? That was for the NHL to decide.

And they did. Scheifele has been suspended from playing for four games which is an individual punishment. It is bound to affect the Jets as well and how they perform in the playoffs but a statement had to be made and it was more than Mark, my friend, had estimated, him thinking that at most Scheifele would get a two match ban.

When I heard that he had been suspended, I felt a frisson of delight, a spark of pleasure that he was not going to get to play. I was pleased that Scheifele was suspended. I think that he should be punished for what he did. He was wrong to do it. He needs to deal with the consequences of his actions. And I didn’t like Scheifele for it. I felt an anger towards him for doing something so unnecessarily violent.

However, I don’t feel like that anymore. In fact, I feel quite the opposite. My views on his actions have not changed but I don’t feel any anger towards him and I also feel a bit ashamed of myself for feeling that way in the first place.

Emotional Scheifele, fighting back tears

Today, I saw a video of Scheifele being interviewed on Sportsnet and it really moved me. Here was the villain, the man with the violent streak and the evil intentions infront of me and I was keen to hear his defence of his behaviour. I was expecting some trite explanation about the nature of the game and some excuse making about momentum or how all players go into the game knowing what it’s about and the danger of playing it, etc.

But instead, here was a man desperately trying to control his emotions in front of a camera. He wasn’t defensive. He wasn’t belligerent. He was articulate and was holding himself accountable and talking about how he can take the punishment given out. I was surprised as I felt sure that he would come across as some arrogant arsehole.

He was raw, you could see that, on the verge of tears and swallowing them down, trying to continue to be professional. It wasn’t because he was contrite about the incident nor was it about not being able to play for his team and feeling like he had let them down although he may have felt all of these things too.

No, Scheifele was emotional because as a result of his actions, the people that he cares about the most are being targeted and bullied. His father, his mother, his brother, his sister – all of the people, “salt of the earth” folk who are close to him are suffering as a result of his behaviour.

I don’t know about you but my estimation of Scheifele has gone up inordinately after seeing his interview. He held his hands up to say that he accepts the NHL’s decision even if he thinks it’s excessive and he is prepared to take the punishment. He knows that what he did was wrong and that goes a long way in my book because owning up is something that seems to be lacking in our society today as we all try and shift the blame somewhere else, anywhere but on ourselves. I admire people who stand up and admit their faults.

Surprisingly, after the interview, I had a begrudging respect for Mark Scheifele.

My anger for Scheifele dissipated but in its place, was a simmering fury at these harassers of his family. What disturbs me is the fact that there are people going out of their way to attack innocent others because of the actions of one. Phone calls, trolling on the internet – these are things that Scheifele mentions have been done to his family because of HIS actions. I don’t know about you but I am picturing an angry mob with pitchforks. I had liked to hope that we had moved on from this sort of behaviour but obviously not. Now, it won’t be many folks partaking in the bullying, I am sure, making Scheifele’s family feel persecuted but it doesn’t take many, does it, to cause strife to someone else?

And I think back to my own anger. I definitely felt hostility for what he did. I am a moderate person with a reasonable interest in hockey – I like to follow it and I have been known to shout at the screen on occasion but I don’t have the inbred passion that some Canadian fans have. I would never have felt compelled to act on that anger.

But there are fans who feel affronted by the actions of the team players and choose to express that fury in a more demonstrative way. I feel for Scheifele’s family in the wake of this as they have nothing whatsoever to do with what he did on the ice that night – that’s all him – and they shouldn’t be suffering as a result of it. Easy targets, I think.

The next game is going to be much hyped. Edmundson, a Habs player has already escalated the drama with comments about how “We’re going to make his life miserable” when Scheifele gets back on the ice. Let’s hope that that doesn’t result in serious injury to someone else. Making someone miserable and almost killing them are very disparate things, or at least they should be but I’m not sure if that will continue to be the case on a hockey rink.

Ehlers – top bloke

In fact, I would advise being an Ehlers rather than an Edmundson, Ehlers being a Jets player who came and stood in front of the scrum of angry Canadiens and Jets kicking off next to the inert form of Evans and protected him. In his words:

“Obviously I hope he’s OK. I came back and saw that he wasn’t looking good. When something like that happens, there tends to be a scrum. So I was just trying to keep everyone away from him. In a situation like that, you don’t want anyone falling on top of him. I was just trying to keep everyone away.”

This is what I am going to try and take away from that game – Ehlers’ quick thinking and keenness to protect. I am going to swallow my dislike for Scheifele’s actions and hope that Edmundson is not too vindictive to other Jets in tonight’s game nor when Scheifele returns, which he inevitably will. And I am going to hope that more of the players have the attitude of Ehlers than Scheifele.

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