Thu Jan 19 11:51am EST
Dylan McIlrath seems to have illustrated the tough job a future shutdown defenceman has between toeing the league's line on head hits and playing the physical game that will take him to the big league. In the midst of a very rough-and-tumble Victoria Royals-Moose Jaw Warriors match on Wednesday, the New York Rangers first-round choice likely incurred his second suspension of the season after getting a major and game misconduct for a check to the head of the Royals' Jesse Zgraggen. McIlrath, who's 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, appeared to take a run at Zgraggen, who's no lightweight himself at 6-1, 209, from quite a distance.
The big blueliner already had a three-game ban for a charging major earlier this season, meaning he's classed as a repeat offender. Victoria coach-GM Marc Habscheid, while holding his team to account for not matching Moose Jaw's ruggedness, was pretty unequivocal about it during a postgame interview: "Those are the hits we're trying to get out of the game. It was a vicious, dirty hit and the league'll look at that."
It also raises a good question of how McIlrath should approach the rest of the year. Taller defencemen in junior often have a tough lot with trying to use their size effectively without making a split-second error that results in contact to the head and another player being hurt. Current Florida Panthers rookie Erik Gudbranson, who's 6-foot-4, was suspended twice last season in the Ontario Hockey League. Boston Bruins first-rounder Dougie Hamilton, listed at 6-5, had a head-checking penalty last weekend last is being reviewed by the OHL.
McIlrath, by many accounts, has been a holy terror this season, by far mostly in a good way. If he's suspended again, this time for a longer span of games, is that going make him more tentative? One bets the Rangers organization hopes the answer is no. Jess Rubenstein, who gets a big stick tap for finding the original video of the play, deftly made that distinction.
Before people want to get on the soapbox and talk about how we are turning the game soft; it's not about taking the hitting out of the game it's about taking people getting hurt out of the game.
More importantly Dylan McIlrath is a key player for the Warriors, his presence in or out of the lineup could be the difference between Moose Jaw entering the WHL playoffs as a first or second seed.
The other problem is when McIlrath returns to the lineup he's going to have a bull's-eye on him with the officials. When you coming back off of a a suspension, the officials they watch a little closer, they don't give you the benefit of the doubt when it comes to close calls, and we really don't want to tell you what happens if a third situation comes up especially in the playoffs. (The Prospect Park)
A suspension probably will be a pretty easy call for WHL vice-president Richard Doerksen. That game, by most accounts, was played on the edge and while that can be great to watch, there need to be checks on that aggression.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (video: WHL).