The OHL champion Owen Sound Attack opened their MasterCard Memorial Cup with a 5-0 victory over the Kootenay Ice, the newly-crowned title holders from the Western Hockey League.
And while the team was happy to skate away with the win and a dominant showing from all - especially goaltender Jordan Binnington - most of the discussion after the game was on Attack forward Joey Hishon.
In the third period with the score 3-0, it was Hishon (photo) that was caught cutting across the ice -- vulnerable -- when he was hit by the elbow of Ice captain Brayden McNabb. Making matters worse, as Hishon was falling he collided again with teammate Liam Heelis. Hishon, the Attack's leading scorer in the regular and post-season, was left curled on the ice with blood dripping from his face. He wobbled going off the ice and needed a hand from his teammates to skate off to the Attack dressing room.
McNabb was given a five minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct.
(Update: 12:05 p.m. Sunday: McNabb has been suspended for Kootenay's game tonight against the Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors.)
"I saw the replay and (the elbow) was high, definitely," said Attack forward Robby Mignardi, who scored twice in the win. "Obviously he was bleeding on the ice; hopefully he's going to be OK."
Neither Hishon nor McNabb were made available to the media by their respective teams. After the game, Attack head coach Mark Reeds said that there was no update on Hishon's condition.
Memorial Cup discipline chair Brian O'Neill will review the hit and make his recommendation on whether or not to suspend McNabb before Sunday's game against the host Mississauga St. Michael's Majors. As far as Kootenay head coach Kris Knoblauch was concerned, he didn't think the hit wasn't worthy of any extra sanction by the Canadian Hockey League.
"It's a very difficult situation," said Knoblauch in the post-game press conference. "You've got a player (McNabb) who is 6-foot-3, stepping up to make a hit on a player who is (5-foot-10). Joey Hishon is an excellent hockey player and he got his head up at the last minute and he was trying to dodge that play. He lowers himself trying to get out of the way, so now you've got 5-10, and he's a little bit smaller than that even, so it's pretty tough for Brayden McNabb to get out of the way and finish that check.
"The referees weren't going to call a major, initially, so they waited to see if there was an injury. The protocol was to give a major if there was an injury - so I don't expect there was - it's hard to make a judgment on intention. It all depends on the injury and I hope Joey Hishon is all right ... but I don't expect there to be a suspension."
When asked if Reeds agreed with Knoblauch's assessment of the hit, the former NHLer was as diplomatic as could possibly be given the circumstances.
"His elbow came out and made contact with his head," said Reeds. "In the Ontario Hockey League, that's a head shot. I understand that we're playing with CHL rules and again, (McNabb's) a big part of Kootenay. I'm not a part of the process that dictates these things so I'll leave it up to the people who do."
Generally, the sanctions in the Western Hockey League seem to be far less severe in terms of length than in the Ontario Hockey League.
This year, the WHL handed out a 12-game suspension to Tri-City centre Brendan Shinnimin for a brutal hit from behind on Saskatoon forward Josh Nicholls that left the Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick with a concussion -- a bruised back and bruised neck. It was the longest suspension the league had handed out in the last three seasons. In comparison, Niagara IceDogs defenceman Tim Billingsley was suspended for 10 games near the end of the OHL season, which carried into the playoffs, for his open ice hit on Ottawa forward Shane Prince, who was cutting across centre ice with his head down.
"His knees were already bent when (McNabb) came across and hit him," said Ice winger Matt Fraser. "If (Hishon) stays up, that's a clean hit. Obviously there are lots of defencemen on both teams that thrive off players like that who cut through the middle. It's an unfortunate play, but that goes both ways."
The Ice won't have much time to parse the game details - the fact that they were kept scoreless, went 0-for-5 on the power play and allowed the Attack to score a shorthanded marker along with two power-play goals on six opportunities. They'll face the Majors, who dropped their opening game on Friday, a 5-4 loss, to the QMJHL champion Saint John Sea Dogs.
"With a day off, there are certain distractions that can be there, but now we just go back to our hotel and regroup," said Fraser. "You wake up and it's a new day and it's another game to go.
"We've experienced defeats before in the playoffs. Now we just have to roll with it."