Friday night Evan Brophey became the latest player to add fuel to the blindside head shot debate. And its likely he’s going to face a multi-game suspension due to a decision he made in the blink of a eye.
NHL observers who recall Joe Thornton’s check on David Perron back on November 4, 2010 would find that as a comparable hit.
Brophey had just stepped out of the penalty box mid-way through the third period with the IceHogs up 3-1.
A diagonal Hamilton pass through the neutral zone put Bulldogs’ forward Hunter Bishop in the direct line of Brophey as rejoined the play. Brophey took a step or two and launched himself into Bishop. Brophey is 6-3. Bishop is 6-foot.
“Obviously it was a bad hit,” a conciliatory Brophey said after the game.
“It was to his head. And my intentions were to just go shoulder to shoulder. But it was a blindside hit and I feel bad. And I’m sorry about that hit.”
Brophey has never been thought of as a dirty player, or one who takes cheap shots while an opponent is in a vulnerable position. On Friday though, a split-second decision to separate Hunter Bishop from the puck in the neutral zone put Brophey in the eye of the current state of head shots, blind side hits and players putting some respect for each other back into the game.
Conventional hockey thinkers would say Brophey did what he was supposed to do. Except he overshot his target when striking Bishop’s head.
“It was an unfortunate situation where I had just come out of the box and the puck came to him,” Brophey explained in his own words. “So, I was trying, like I said, to go shoulder to shoulder. But I clipped him right in the head, straight on. You know, I feel bad and I apologize for that.”
Upon the hit, play was immediately whistled down by official Ghislain Herbert and two Bulldogs’ players charged after Brophey. This all went down to the side of Rockford’s bench, where Bishop stayed unconscious. After a few minutes he was able to get up and be helped off the ice by a trainer and his teammates.
In a tight-checking era of hockey when coaches preach body position, finishing checks and most importantly – never giving up on a play, eliminating a hit like the Brophey-Bishop one from Friday’s game will not come easy.
IceHogs’ head coach Bill Peters concedes it could be time to make a few adjustments to a coach’s and checker’s mentality. Over time, Peters said, he does believe a hit like the one Friday, or Joe Thornton’s on David Perron, can be eliminated.
“Yeah, I think so over time as people get educated and players get educated,” Peters explained. “He’s coming out of the box, the play is in front of him. It’s a bang-bang play, but maybe you just have to let (Bishop) go. You don’t have body position; you’re in a bad spot. I’d let him go.”
“It’s unfortunate. It’s the hit that we don’t want in the game; nobody wants in the game. I hope Bishop is okay. But those are the hits that we don’t need in the game. I don’t think it was intentional by any means but I’m sure the league will look at it and deal with it… you know, the way they should.”
Dylan Olsen on the PK
Because of injuries and limited roster options, the IceHogs have dressed seven defenseman and a forward short in their last four games. Skating with eleven forwards is actually a throwback to a few years ago when the AHL had a game roster limit of 19. And typically the position lost was a fourth line forward. Since the AHL bumped it up to match the NHL’s maximum.
The player impacted most of late has been Dylan Olsen. His five-on-five ice time has been cut back since the return of Ivan Vishnevskiy. In 33 games in the AHL since turning pro in January, Olsen has recorded 3 assists and is a minus-11.
Olsen has largely fit in nicely, and transitioned well from the NCAA. It comes as no surprised he’s been a bit overwhelmed at times and it appears the pace of the pro game (and schedule) has run Olsen down a bit.
But he’s strong and confident enough at the AHL level to succeed and help the Hogs’ in small doses. Right now, Olsen is working out quite well on Rockford’s second PK unit.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Dylan Olsen as a penalty killer and you’ll see him killing penalties a lot down the stretch here and into next year,” Peters said of his 20-year old blue liner.
A bit up, a bit down
Brandon Pirri‘s rookie season has been a mixed bag. A constant fixture on the team’s power play working the half-wall, Pirri has 2 goals and 9 assists with the man-advantage. Of the Hogs’ 50 power play goals, Pirri’s been out for 24 of those. He struggled with the assignment early on but in January when Taffe moved back to the point and Pirri hopped on that unit, they were involved in the next 15 IceHogs’ power play goals. But then Pirri missed some time with an injury and recently its been Ben Smith and the second unit doing more damage.
Going into Friday’s game, Pirri had been on quite a roll. Five assists over three games and feeling comfortable again back at center after being eased back into the flow on wing for a few games.
By the third period of Friday night 4-3 overtime win over Hamilton though, Pirri had been relegated to the bench. Bill Peters explained.
“(Pirri) had a great game Wednesday. I thought he was outstanding. He played against a real good line against San Antonio, there in the (Randy) Robitaille line. He had two assists, plus-4 and he really generated a lot. I was hoping to see a repeat type-performance. I didn’t think he was as good as Wednesday.”
When Ryan Potulny was traded to Ottawa, Jeff Taffe slid over to the center position on the Hogs’ top line and Ben Smith bumped up to the top line on right wing, with Rob Klinkhammer remaining on the left side. When Smith was recalled last week to Chicago for a night, Pirri moved back to the center spot on Taffe’s line and responded.
Last night, it seemed Peters didn’t see Pirri building off those three games on the top line and clearly sent Pirri that message by taking his ice time.
“And I thought Peter Leblanc had a little bit more jump,” Peters expounded. “So that’s what we did. We flipped him. And then when Broph went out, we were down to basically ten forwards, and the guy who didn’t play much was Bollig. So all nine of those guys were out there and playing, but what you didn’t see Pirrs with Klink and Taffer because we made some changes there to balance out all three lines.”
Pirri has 8 goals and 23 assists in 61 games in his first season as a pro.
Stat of the week
Home ice advantage is generally accepted as a real factor in most hockey circles, but then again when looking at Kyle Beach‘s MetroCentre stat line, you’d have to wonder.
Beach has recorded twice as many points at home than on the road. At home – 10 goals, 12 assists in 33 games played…. opposed to the road where he’s posted 4 goals and 7 assists in 32 games. Overall, Beach is a minus-22 on the season. Currently, Shawn Lalonde is next-worst at -12.
The frightening aspect of Beach’s numbers however looms in his plus/minus.
While he has twice as many points at home opposed to the road, Beach is a minus-20 on home ice. By far, the worst on the IceHogs. Brandon Pirri (-10, 32gp) and Lalonde (-9, 35gp) are next.
Beach has sat out the last two games with a minor undisclosed injury.