Getting in harm’s way
BEN MEYER-ABBOTT ON THE blackhawks October 18, 2011 10:54PM
Chicago Blackhawks Vs Washington Capitals. Chicago Blackhawks No.22 Jamal Mayers is in stride with Washington Capitals No.23 Keith Aucoin. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: November 20, 2011 9:01AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — A player races toward a defenseman holding on to the puck along the boards in the corner. A split second before he arrives, the defenseman passes the puck and then turns — but not to avoid the check.
The defenseman turns his back toward the onrushing player with his head precariously facing the boards and simply waits.
That’s the scenario the Minnesota Wild’s Cal Clutterbuck said is happening across the league when he caused a stir this week and called into question the effect the NHL’s crackdown on boarding has had.
“Guys are abusing the rule in the wrong kind of way and purposely putting themselves in vulnerable positions,” Clutterbuck, the league leader in hits the past three seasons, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “You should never turn your back when you know someone’s coming to hit you. It’s the stupidest thing you could ever do. The league’s got to look at this.”
The Hawks’ Jamal Mayers, now in his 14th NHL season, said he noticed the trend of players deliberately deciding to put themselves in vulnerable positions about six or seven years.
“I’ve felt for years a lot of guys turn their back when they’re going to be hit to draw a penalty,” Mayers said. “They know you can’t hit them when they turn their back.”
Joel Quenneville said it was unheard of during his playing days for a player to put himself in a vulnerable position along the boards. But Quenneville said he has noticed a difference.
“I’m not naïve, I have seen it and it is happening,” Quenneville said. “At the same time. . . . I’ve seen an awareness [about boarding and head shots] where you’ve seen guys, I don’t want to say necessarily pass up a hit, but not go for the big hit when a guy is vulnerable.”
Daniel Carcillo, whose game is partially predicated on making a contribution through his hits, said he’s already had to avoid a collision he previously wouldn’t have thought twice about.
“Yeah, it was [my] game of the year actually [against the Winnipeg Jets],” Carcillo said. “[Johnny] Oduya did that. [He] had the puck on the boards and I had him lined up shoulder-to-shoulder and he rimmed [the puck away] and then as soon as I got there he turned his back and I had to come to a complete stop and I couldn’t finish him.
That Carcillo pulled up to avoid the hit may be the kind of change the NHL is looking to see. But there is also a degree of ambiguityt.
“The video that we saw, the league said that if guys put themselves in a vulnerable position right before you’re going to hit them, from my understanding, it’s not going to be our fault,” Carcillo said.
Carcillo said he hasn’t changed his game, but that he is much more aware when he goes in for checks.
“It’s really difficult,” Carcillo said. “The game’s so fast, once you start thinking about, ‘Oh man should I make this hit, maybe I shouldn’t make that hit,’ it’s not good — especially for a guy like me who needs to make those hits to be an effective player.”