December 29, 2010
BUFFALO — There would be no outcry over Zack Kassian's suspension if more people were year-round junior fans.
The Team Canada forward is out until the medal round after receiving an extra game for his match penalty against the Czech Republic on Tuesday. Speaking as a diehard junior watcher, it is tough to get away from the thought some of the outcry comes from superimposing the NHL's standard on a tournament of teenagers. The rules on checks to the area of the head in Europe and the Canadian Hockey League (the home base for 18 of 22 Team Canada players), are very strict.
The confusion, and confusion usually begets anger, comes from not fully grasping an eight-year-old IIHF rule. (The same rule also led to bans for Slovakia's Martin Marincin and Peter Hrasko for dirty plays vs. Team USA; Marincin is gone for four games, essentially the entire tournament.)
For pity's sake, Kassian received a 20-game ban for a heat shot last season in the Ontario Hockey League. At that time, TSN's James Duthie referred to the Kassian hit on then-Barrie Colt Matt Kennedy as "disturbing" and "one of those predatory hits." I mention that solely to point out those are the words which get used when this happens in regular junior play.
Duthie's colleague, Bob McKenzie, was a voice of reason on Tuesday after Kassian's collision with Czech Republic forward Petr Senkerik (pictured).
"The IIHF's standard on hits to the head is much tougher than it is in the National Hockey League. In fact it's not just hits to the head, it's hits to the head and neck area, so I don't think you could dispute that Kassian's shoulder did come up around Senkerik's neck and head area. There obviously was injury on the play, so it was a pretty obvious call." (TSN, emphasis mine)
Here is the play again:
There are many shades of grey here. The fact neither referee raised his arm to indicate a penalty on Kassian hurts the IIHF's credibility in the court of public opinion. That might have been reflected in Windsor Spitfires GM Warren Rychel's take prior to the announcement, "The European referee crew panicked and made an improper call." The way the call was handled made it come off like a reaction to the injury more than the act which resulted in said injury.
It would be one hell of a straw-man argument, though, to say the IIHF is trying to score some political point by making it a two-game ban. The call was made by former NHL referee Dna Marouelli, the tournament's disciplinary judge.
Senkerik had his head down, but the hit failed the sniff test. Senkerik didn't even have the puck.
Meantime, people need to realize the IIHF rule is what it is. Contact to the head and neck will bring an ejection. Team USA lost one of its most dangerous forwards, Jason Zucker, after he was elbowed in the head by Marincin on Tuesday.
In Canada, the tournament is sold is a quest for world junior supremacy. That means accepting the rules used around the world and in junior hockey, not just picking-and-choosing.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.