Being a hockey writer/fan hybrid is really difficult sometimes. Every now and then, a moment or event comes along where, even though you need to be impartial and take all sides into consideration, your mind is blurred by the personal bias your mind has spent a lifetime building.
For me, that moment came midway through the third period of an eventual 3-2 Canucks victory over the Florida Panthers, when Elias Pettersson was injured on a dirty cheap shot by Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson.
If this moment never happened, I would’ve called Vancouver’s trip through the Southeast US an unmitigated success. They’d rewarded Anders Nilsson’s amazing play in Tampa Bay on Thursday with a stunning 4-1 win over the Lightning; a team who’ll undoubtedly be contending for a Stanley Cup come April. And while they’d lost 5-3 to the Carolina Hurricanes two days earlier, Vancouver had still given the speedy young ‘Canes a hard fought battle.
But that all seems like an eternity ago. As does the fact that Brock Boeser finally scored his first goal of the season, a beautiful cannon shot past the left arm of Andrei Vasilevskiy for the game winner against the Lightning. Or that Anders Nilsson, a goalie who’s struggled ever since the beginning of 2018, put together two incredible winning performances in Tampa and Sunrise.
Instead, all I can think about is watching the Canucks’ best player kneeling on one leg, attempting to catch his breath and get up before stumbling and falling back onto the ice. And, like a lot of fans and writers have expressed over the last 24 hours, every time I watch the replay, I start seeing red.
What Mike Matheson did was straight up garbage; a predatory, wrestling-style bodyslam where his only intention was to injure a 19 year-old rookie. Pettersson had embarrassed Matheson moments earlier with his stickhandling abilities, and his reaction was to throw a violent tantrum about it. Even the initial hit, which looks perfectly normal at first glance, turns into a scene from a horror movie as Matheson puts his stick between Pettersson’s legs and sweeps the front foot forward in order to send him crashing to the ice.
i missed it last night, maybe this is well known. but i’ve seen lots say initial hit was fine. check how matheson uses his stick to can open pettersson. im sick about all of it pic.twitter.com/QqQwvXUUZl
— Jason Botchford (@botchford) October 14, 2018
A lot of the reactions I’ve seen from outside the Canuck-sphere echo the same message; while the slam was horrible, they don’t think Matheson will face any supplemental discipline from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. The sad thing is that they’re probably right; far too often when it comes to plays like this, Player Safety’s only form of punishment is the adult equivalent of a “boys will be boys” speech.
I’ve already ranted about this subject a bit today on Twitter, but what it boiled down to was this; if the NHL truly cares about protecting their star players from thuggery, they need to lay down the law on incidents like this. Matheson absolutely deserves a suspension for what he did to Pettersson on Saturday, and it’d be in the league’s best interest to give him a big one and deter anyone thinking of doing something similar.
The good news is that according to Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, Matheson will have a hearing about the incident this week, and while a suspension isn’t guaranteed it’s at least a likely possibility. But what no supplemental discipline can give the Canucks is a healthy Elias Pettersson, and whether that day comes on Tuesday or three weeks from now, there’s some dark days ahead for the Canucks franchise.
When the Canucks went into free agency and handed out millions to hard nosed depth guys like Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle, Jim Benning preached how these players were going to make the Canucks tougher to play against and help protect their growing young stars. In fact, when he gave Erik Gudbranson a three-year extension back in February, Benning mentioned one name in particular while explaining why.
Fast forward to last night, after Mike Matheson takes out Vancouver’s star player. The all-new gritty Canucks showed their outrage by…doing nothing. To be fair, Beagle gets a pass since he also got hurt (more on that later), but the players they signed with the specific purpose of preventing opponents from injuring talented players did absolutely nothing.
To be clear, I don’t endorse the general concept of fighting in hockey. But if there was one time for the Canucks’ tough guys to drop the gloves, it was yesterday. But the team chose to ignore it, and while they ended up winning the game thanks to a Bo Horvat goal soon after the hit, they also sent a clear message that they won’t even try to deter opponents from taking runs at the Petterssons and Boesers in the lineup.
Here’s the thing; this wouldn’t even be an issue if the Canucks hadn’t made such a big deal about needing grit for these sorts of incidents. Whether or not gritty players actually deter goonish behaviour is an argument for another day, but what I saw yesterday was $11.9 million worth of “toughness” not even attempt to stand up for their fallen teammate.
The way I see it, the Canucks could’ve used that money to sign players who’d provide a bigger offensive upside and the results would’ve been exactly the same. So why pay guys for protection purposes if they’re not going to actually provide any?
I’m done ranting for today. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Pettersson wasn’t the only player to leave the game last night. Late in the game, Jay Beagle was hit in the hand blocking a Mike Hoffman slapshot and, according to Mr. iMac, may not be returning to the lineup for a while.
With Beagle gone for the foreseeable future, the Canucks’ have 14 minutes a night to fill at centre and an extra roster spot available. If you’ve been paying attention to the Utica Comets this season, there’s one man – or Hockey Gaud – who deserves his first NHL call up of the year.
Adam Gaudette’s four points in as many games might only put him fifth in Comets’ scoring, but his overall play has been phenomenal at both ends of the ice. While I think he needs a little more time in the minors before he’s ready to compete for a full time spot, I do think Gaudette is ready to play a semi-long term role with the Canucks while Beagle’s hand heals.
Instead of the usual Around the Rinks segment, I’ll be trying something Canucks oriented today and quickly talking about stuff I noticed from this week’s trio of games that didn’t necessarily warrant a full segment or a punny title. Welcome to Game Notes.
– It’s no secret that Jacob Markstrom had a rough night in Carolina on Tuesday. But even though Anders Nilsson played two excellent games in the Sunshine State, I’d go back to Marky against Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Markstrom is still the starter as far as the Canucks are concerned, and giving him back the crease to play a tough opponent like the Penguins would be an immediate vote of confidence for him.
– With Roussel returning to the lineup yesterday, the Canucks have elected to waive Alex Biega and send him to the Comets. Biega was definitely the safest choice possible, but I am surprised since Jim Benning talked in September about wanting eight defensemen available in case of injuries. Makes me wonder which extra forwards showed the coaching staff enough to warrant staying with the big club.
– I’ve given Antoine Roussel a lot of flak today for a guy who played his first game of the season after dealing with concussion issues. Which is why I’d like to take this opportunity to say I was impressed by Roussel’s play in his Canucks debut. I could’ve done without the two early trips to the sin bin or some sort of retribution for the Wunder Kid, but the way he caught the Florida defense napping and drew a penalty shot in the second period gives me hope that he can contribute offensively as well as agitate. That first ever goal didn’t hurt either.
– It’s taken longer than anyone expected, but it looks like Bo and Brock are finally starting to hit their stride, and with Pettersson potentially out of the lineup it couldn’t have come at a better time. Horvat’s game winner last night was the result of simply reading the play and going hard to the net; in other words, a vintage Bo goal. As for Boeser, the expression on his face after scoring on Thursday said it all. Add in the pair of assists from the games against the Hurricanes and Panthers, and Brock’s currently riding a three game point streak. Hopefully he’ll find the back of the net a couple more times before this road trip wraps up.
LITC Update: Listen Up!
During my first semester at the SRJC Oak Leaf back in 2016, our journalism department head and adviser, Anne Belden, approached myself and my Polar Bears teammate Travis “Broosh” Labrucherie about doing a hockey podcast before the Stanley Cup Playoffs. We both liked the idea and that April we, along with Broosh’s friend (and Polar Bear alumnus) Trevor Rocco, recorded the first episode of what would end up becoming the SRJC Polar Bears Podcast.
By the end of the year, our schedules and other priorities got too chaotic to keep the show going, and we decided to call it a day. While Trevor and Broosh went back to solely running their separate film podcast (which you should give a listen to), I ended up taking an unexpected year and a half long break from podcasting.
And honestly, that break sucked. Doing the podcast with Broosh, Travis and later addition Tommy Dennen was some of the most fun I’ve had covering the game. Getting to talk and joke for an hour or so each week about the NHL with friends is a great way to spend a day, and ever since the show ended I’ve been desperate to get back in front of a mic.
But finally, after months of planning and searching for a co-host, I’m officially jumping back into the realm of podcasts this month. I’m excited to announce The Van Jose Podcast, a Canucks/Sharks hybrid podcast hosted by myself and fellow writer Nora Scally, which we’re hoping to debut in a week and a half from now on October 24th.
Pretty cool cover, eh? Huge thanks to my friend and new Van Jose producer Matt Ashlock for making it!
Since neither of us live in the same place right now, the logistics are still a little fuzzy. But the current plan is to record episodes weekly every Wednesday discussing all things Canucks and Sharks, as well as other interesting stories from throughout the hockey world. We might do a sneak preview episode this week to test the equipment, but either way we can’t wait to get started and I hope you’ll give us a listen when we officially hit the (internet) airwaves!
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on the Elias Pettersson hit? Leave a comment below!