Optics — an academic term for the gut reaction to a controversial incident in a hockey game — can outweigh a dastardly deed or its impact. Suffice to say, Ottawa 67's captain Marc Zanetti, who's already served one suspension in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs for something which happened in a nationally televised game, could be in trouble again after another incident that was beamed across Canada.
After the Niagara IceDogs' Tom Kühnhackl opened the scoring early in the third period in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference championship on Friday, bumping Ottawa goalie Petr Mrazek after he completed his deke to score, he was knocked down by the 67's Jake Cardwell with a late hit. Players converged around Cardwell and Kühnhackl, who was down on the ice. As skated toward the skirmish, Zanetti's right foot clearly made contact with the back of Kühnhackl's head. Sportsnet's Patrick King noted it "probably look[ed] worse than it actually is, but there's no way he doesn't get suspended." Kicking an opponent, it goes without saying, is very taboo in hockey. It was was clear foot-to-head contact.
Zanetti did not get a penalty on the play. (Ironically, Kühnhackl later got a penalty for bumping Mrazek.)
(Update: Zanetti has been suspended indefinitely, putting him out Game 2 on Sunday and quite likely longer.)
IceDogs coach-GM Marty Williamson seemed to be preparing to make a crux of his grievance following the 2-1 overtime win.
From Bill Potrecz:
Following the goal, there was a pile-up of players behind the net during which Kuhnhackl was kicked in the head by Ottawa defenceman Marc Zanetti, according to Williamson."He kicked him in the back of the head," Williamson said. "I don't understand the mentality of a player going in and kicking another player when he in down on the ice.
"The refs can't see everything and there was a lot of commotion after the goal, but I looked at four times on TV, and he just skates in and kicks him in the back of the head."
Ottawa coach Chris Byrne said he didn't see the incident.
"I didn't see it so I can't comment on it," Byrne said. (St. Catharines Standard)
Zanetti received a five-game earlier in the playoffs for spearing a Belleville Bulls player before the second game of their opening-round series. Now people are generally assuming the next suspension could take him out of the series entirely and quite possibly bring an end to his days in the OHL, since this is a league in which a player can get a 10-game suspension for a play where he intended to deliver a clean check and ends making contact with an opponent's head. Then again, London Knights winger Ryan Rupert only got five games earlier this season when he took a baseball swing at the midsection of Sault Ste. Marie's Nick Cousins at the end of a game in the fall.
The fact it happened on Sportsnet's Friday Night Hockey will probably put greater focus on how OHL commissioner David Branch and vice-president Ted Baker decide to handle it, regardless of how strongly they claim it's not a factor. That's just human nature. Increased media coverage doesn't necessarily mean every junior player is automatically tried and convicted, or that the league will always bring the hammer down harder. Earlier in the playoffs when Ottawa's Dalton Smith, who's also a repeat offender, got a head-checking major and game misconduct during a Sportsnet game against Belleville, analyst Sam Cosentino and many other journalists were quick to demonstrate that it wasn't a suspendable offence.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.