WHL overreaction Monday: Blades on receiving end of some questionable hits

Over two games this past weekend, the Saskatoon Blades were on the receiving end of three different controversial hits. First with 1:33 left in a 5-2 loss to Regina that extended their losing streak to four-games, defenseman Mark Rubinchik was hit form behind into the boards by Pats’ forward Jeff de Wit.

The former Red Deer Rebels’ forward is screened from the puck by the import blue liner and holds up as they go into the boards. However, de Wit puts his hands on Rubinchik’s back and drives him head first into the boards. De Wit was given a five-minute checking from behind major, a game misconduct and a “TBD” suspension. Probably the most concerning part of this hit is the fact that it really did not need to happen. There was not much time left in a three-goal game and Rubinchik clearly had him beat to the puck. There’s room for de Wit to throw a clean hit and maybe even force a turnover, but instead he drives the vulnerable d-man into the boards in a dangerous spot.

Then on Saturday night; nearly halfway into the third period and trailing 3-1, Red Deer Rebel forward (and former Blade) Cameron Hausinger was chasing Saskatoon d-man Jake Kustra when disaster struck. Kustra lost an edge and went down into an awkward position, while Hausinger hit him from the side. The hit was given a five-minute major for checking to the head and a game misconduct. Kustra was placed on a stretcher, taken off of the ice and brought to a local hospital.

The hit sparked heated exchanges between Red Deer coach Brent Sutter and Saskatoon coach Dean Brockman. Sutter drew some criticism for making comments to Greg Meachem, who writes for the Rebels’ website. These comments were made while Kustra was still being evaluated by medical professionals:

“You feel terrible if the kid got hurt, but he put himself in that position to allow himself to be injured,” said the Rebels boss. “He had control of the puck, went to pass it out and fell forward. Hausinger glided towards him, he never took a stride.
“Those are the types of calls that are frustrating from a coach’s standpoint. A major penalty shouldn’t be called because someone was hurt on the play. Last night (at Prince Albert) (Carson) Sass got knocked out of the game with a check that was much, much worse that than and it was a two-minute minor penalty.
“I don’t like seeing anyone get hurt, but how do you blame a player for finishing a check when the other player stumbles.”

Sutter has never been a coach to worry about being politically correct and that was definitely evidenced by his decision to make these comments while it was still unknown what Kustra’s status was. He may not be incorrect as it appears the penalty was given purely on the basis that Kustra was seriously injured. However, when to state your difference of opinion to the referee and the press is a careful line to watch. With this being a game where 16-20 year olds are flying around at high speeds and hitting each other, it may be in everyone’s best interests to wait until you know one of those kids is not seriously injured before you complain about the penalty.

Later in the game, the hits literally kept coming for the Blades. With 30 seconds left in a game that Saskatoon was leading 4-2, Rebels’ d-man Colton Bobyk threw a huge open-ice check on Blades’ forward Braylon Shmyr dropping him to the ice. His hit appeared to target the chest area but did extend up through the head. This came at the end of an emotional contest but again was a case of an area where it just did not need to happen.

Both Shmyr and Kustra are out indefinitely now with concussions. Head injuries are notorious for being hard to treat and create a timeline for return. At this point, de Wit is the only one of the three players facing a suspension. Sutter has not been fined as of yet either for his actions and words. de Wit is just one of four different players given a suspension last week alone.

Overreaction of the week: What gets a suspension and what does not get a suspension is puzzling.

The WHL has been placed in a really tough situation as far as suspending players for hits. Fans expect the same consistency and expectations that they see the NHL deal out but the WHL does not have anywhere near the amount of resources to do this. With the improvement in video this year, the WHL has done a better job of figuring out what the intentions of the hitter are in each incident. In years past it seemed they were suspending purely based upon whether someone was injured or not. The length of the suspension often seemed to be based upon how long someone would be out of the lineup for.

Which of these hits to penalize though? The de Wit incident is the low hanging fruit and the easiest to throw the book at. The Kustra incident looked to be just an unfortunate situation and not worthy of a suspension. The Bobyk hit is borderline and though he did not target the head, it did seem he made a lot of contact with it.

Overall though, I think I speak for a lot of people who follow this league in saying that I would understand the WHL’s decisions a lot more of there were attempts to explain why a decision was made. Also, a clear list of things they look for when deciding on a suspension would do wonders to clear up the whole thing and the fans would find this appealing.



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