Ryan Ellis and Wayne Simmonds teamed up to treat us to one of the hits of the year Saturday night. Early in the second period, with the Nashville Predators leading the Philadelphia Flyers 1-0, Simmonds came flying down the left side, and tried to cut inside on Ellis, his man.
Ellis wasn't having it. While he initially looked to have overplayed Simmonds's dash down the wing, he made a deft recovery, stopping up and throwing the hip as Simmonds made his move to the middle. The result was this:
You've got to love a hit that sends a guy ass over teakettle. The Predators and their fans certainly did. From the Tennesseean:
"It was kind of something that happened in the moment," Ellis said. "He tried to cut in; it was a good move by him, but obviously I got in his way. I'm just a small guy, so he went over top of me."
The play seemed to ignite the announced sell-out crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena and the Predators players.
"That was awesome, just a one-on-one play," goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "Just a strong play by (Ellis). It was a key play. He had a long reach — Simmonds — he was trying to go around him. Just an old-school hip-check, and fun to watch."
All this said, when I shared the hit on Twitter, a number of people were quick to observe that the principle point of contact appears to be the knee area, and my first instinct upon seeing the hit was to agree. Isn't this clipping?
Clipping was only called a few times in 2011 (albeit twice to Keith Ballard, who can get a bit low), but with Brad Marchand's five-game suspension, the penalty has definitely gone mainstream. Expect flippy hipchecks of this sort to see an increased level of scrutiny going forward.
So what's the difference between Marchand's hit on Sami Salo and this one?
There are certainly similarities. Marchand and Ellis are both diminutive guys. Marchand is 5'9", Ellis is 5'10, and their victims, Salo and Simmonds, are quite a bit taller -- Simmonds is 6'2" and Salo is 6'3". In both cases, it could be argued that the hitter's small stature contributed to the lowness of the hit.
But there are differences between the two plays that explain why one garnered a five-gamer and the other garnered little more than oohs and aahs.
The first thing to remember is that Marchand wasn't suspended simply for the clip. He was suspended because Brendan Shanahan deemed it a predatory play. When you mix the descriptors "predatory", "injurious" and "the work of a repeat offender", you have a recipe for a lengthy suspension. Take away Salo's concussion, Marchand's discipline record, and Marchand's gloved punches to Salo in the seconds prior to the hit, and the punishment is likely far less severe.
But still, the officials didn't even look twice at this one, not even for a two-minute minor. Why?
The second thing to remember here is how clipping is defined:
44.1 Clipping - Clipping is the act of throwing the body, from any direction, across or below the knees of an opponent.
A player may not deliver a check in a "clipping" manner, nor lower his own body position to deliver a check on or below an opponent's knees.
Judging by this criteria, Ellis's hit isn't clipping. Why? Ellis doesn't lower his body position to deliver this check to the knee area -- Simmonds raises his body position. In his attempt to get around Ellis, he jumps, and both of his skates are off the ice at the moment of contact. Here's a screenshot:
As an aside, Wayne Simmonds has some long, skinny legs. He's like the drummer in that Supergrass video. Anyway.
It's hard to see from this angle, but if you watch the play in real-time, you can see Ellis attempt to compensate for Simmonds's hop by standing up a little to ensure that he connects with the waist. He clearly succeeds somewhat too, as Simmonds pops out to the side rather than up and over his head.
In short, this hit is clean, legal and, therefore, awesome. Feel free to watch it multiple times.
Follow Harrison Mooney on Twitter at @HarrisonMooney