Oct 122010

TheThirdManIn~Radio returns tonight as we take a look back at the Chicago Blackhawks first three games of the 2010-11 season.

Also, Buddy Oakes of PredsOnTheGlass.com, Inside Hockey and the Columbia Daily Herald will join us to talk Nashville Predators’ hockey and preview tomorrow night’s Blackhawks-Preds matchup at the United Center.

You can listen to tonight’s show live at 8pm central over at BlogTalk, or on ITunes, this site or in the archives later tonight.

We’ll also discuss Niklas Hjalmarsson’s violent, illegal check on Buffalo Sabres’ winger Jason Pominville from last night’s first period in Buffalo.

I’m sure most have either heard or seen the play, but if not ….


It’s extremely frustrating to read and hear people attempting to defend Hjalmarsson for this hit, or absolve Hjalmarsson because “Pominville saw him coming.”  And I’m having a hard time understanding how individuals, and some who I usually respect, can come away from that hit saying it was anything other than a hit from behind.  If you’re one of those people, you’re really embarrassing yourself.

I think Tim Sassone is pretty close to being on top of this.  And at least Hockeenight is one place that knows a hit from behind when it plays out blatantly before their eyes.

Sassone is right in regards to this hit on Pominville not being comparable, fairly, to the hit James Wisniewski (more on this goof later today) laid on Brent Seabrook last season.  There was clear intent to do damage to Seabrook where Wisniewski’s hit was concerned.  I don’t think anyone’s saying Hjalmarsson had similar intentions in mind at all.  He was simply careless.  And careless when it comes to another player’s well being should be taken very seriously.

Last night’s hit was reckless.  Considering Pominville’s positioning along the wall with his hands down, not in a position to be hit, vulnerable, with Hjalmarsson attacking from a blind spot, it is clearly too dangerous of a hit for the league to overlook.

Whether Pominville saw Hjalmarsson coming or not is irrelevant.  He’s not expecting to be hit before the puck gets to him, because that would be an illegal hit.  As this hit was illegal.

At the point before the collision that Pominville looks over his shoulder, he already sees the puck coming towards him.  With Hjalmarsson oncoming, he’s in no-man’s land.  He could surrender the puck because he suspects he’s about to be hit illegally and dangerously, or he can trust Hjalmarsson won’t act recklessly.

Ultimately the responsibility lies completely in Hjalmarsson’s hands.  I’ve been in his position before and I’ve done the same thing.  The idea is to time the contact at the exact moment the puck arrives because that’s when the puck carrier is at his most vulnerable (within the rules).  We see this attempted all the time.  Hjalmarsson’s looking for a big collision.  One that knocks Pominville off the puck and temporarily out of the play.  Because that’s the sexier play, and the easier one if you time it right and have the balance and strength to pull it off.

To suggest Hjalmarsson was looking to injure Pominville is absurd.  Hjalmarsson’s pulled this very maneuver off, probably 100 times as a Blackhawk, but he screwed up this time.  He was looking to put a big-time hit on Pominville. In playing a guessing-game with the timing of the collision, Hjalmarsson was playing a game of risk with Pominville’s well-being.

And that’s what is most-concerning and ultimately suspendable.  In the position Pominville is in, there along the wall; he’s at  Hjalmarsson’s mercy.  Niklas could have simply attempted to stick-check Pominville at the moment the puck arrived, or waited until the puck got to Pominville before committing to the hit.  It’s not as if running Pominville into the boards and glass was his only option there.  Instead, he saw Pominville on the train tracks and chose to run him down.

Joel Quenneville’s defense of Hjalmarsson post-game is predictable, still dumbfounding.  You can say “well, if Hjalmarsson gets there a half second later….” – But he didn’t.  And that’s Hjalmarsson’s responsibility.  Not Pominville’s.  If the shoe was on the other foot, you can guarantee Quenneville wouldn’t be suggesting that hit didn’t even warrant a minor penalty.

Further, Quenneville suggesting Hjalmarsson was playing the puck and didn’t see the stationary Pominville, is more ridiculous than someone insinuating Pominville share some culpability in the collision because he looked over his shoulder shortly before and noticed the Blackhawk defenseman’s presence.  Pominville is at least in Hjalmarsson’s field of vision, not bringing the impact from a blind area.  Plus, when you watch the replay, Hjalmarsson turns his shoulder into the 9 on the back of Pominville’s sweater before the moment of impact while Pominville is still waiting for the puck.

There’s an entire larger issue here as it pertains to the lack of respect players seem to have for one another at times.  As in the case of Wisniewski and Ovechkin’s hit on Brian Campbell.

But when it comes to head injuries, the league needs to do more than give lip service.

I wouldn’t argue there was intention on Hjalmarsson’s part to strike the head.  However, when you hit a player along the wall, who has his hands down and at that moment, isn’t expecting to be hit, and can’t see the hit coming, what do you think is going to happen?  The force of the hit will drive the vulnerable player into the boards and glass, with the head being at a high risk to strike one of those violently.

It’ll be interesting to see how the league handles this.  Because Hjalmarsson doesn’t have a record of this, you shouldn’t expect the league to be hard on him.  However, considering Pominville did sustain a concussion and will likely miss at least a few games, the league office will undoubtedly be hitting Hjalmarsson will some kind of discipline.

Two games would be fair and hopefully send a message that hits like these won’t be tolerated.

The good news is Pominville was well enough that the medical attendants did not transport him to hospital and treated him at the arena.

Any head injury, be it “slight” or “severe” is serious.  Head trauma is nothing to glance over, or treat as an understood hazard of the game.  There must be some accountability in situations such as these.  The next player who sees an opportunity like the one Hjalmarsson saw last night, must understand there will be ramifications if he doesn’t time that hit right.