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Chara and Recklessness in Hockey

I watched the hit on Pacioretty. It was ugly. Watching the guy bounce off the side of the glass and then fall motionless to the ice. This is something noone wants to see, and I am sure Pacioretty's family didn't enjoy watching it either.

It does, however, raise some interesting questions about the state of the game. Many Bruins fans and a not insubstantial number of commentators jumped to the defence of Chara. Common refrains included "it's not Chara's fault that the building was made that way" and "it was interference and a late bit, but no malicious intent and tragic consequences." Really? I disagree with these, so carry on through the looking glass to find out why...

Hockey is, by all account, a violent, hard hitting, fast paced sport with a lot of risk. This is true. There are lots of big hits which hurt people. Fights which knock people out and little rubber bullets flying everywhere which can do a not-insubstantial amount of damage. Collisions happen at high speed and can result in bad injuries. These are accepted parts of the game. Big, clean, hits and fights are welcomed and cheered on and accepted as a risk players take when they take to the ice.

However not all hitting is legal and accepted. Recently, head shots and hits to the head have been banned and the league wants people to think it is cracking down on them (i say "wants people to think" because half the time I wonder if they actually are serious about eliminating them). Why is that? Because targeted hits to the head, while not guaranteed to injure, are highly risky and can potentially severely damage or kill someone. The brain is a sensitive organ, which doesn't take damage lightly. We need look no further than Bob Probert, who donated his body to science in order to study the effects of hockey on his brain. What was found was... troubling. His brain was not in good shape.

To sum up, head hits are reckless plays which have a high likelihood of causing serious injury. The same for the similarly banned slew foot infractions.

I am sure you are asking me what this has to do with Zdeno Chara and his hit on Max Pacioretty. Well, Chara's hit was extraordinarily reckless. The media won't say it, but this is about as bad as Todd Bertuzzi trying to bounce Steve Moore's head off the ice like a basketball. 

Sure, it's not Chara's fault that the rink was constructed in that way. But it's also a building he has played in many times before, and the glass wasn't exactly hiding underneath the boards, springing up to hit Pacioretty at the last minute as part of some grand practical joke. Chara pushed him into the bench and followed through carrying Pacioretty's head into the glass. The play was completely reckless. Chara was committing an infraction as it was and did not have to follow through with the contact. He had already obstructed Pacioretty (thereby drawing an interference penalty) and there was absolutely no need to continue with the hit. While this draws all sorts of inferences of intent to introduce Pacioretty to the glass in an overly personal manner, I don't think finding direct intent is required. Chara knew of the risks of the play and was aware of all the surrounding circumstances. Even without malicious intent, he followed through with an unnecessary hit, and carried the player forward on the boards towards a hazard, smashing his head against the side of the glass. He was completely reckless with the safety of the player. This wasn't a clean hit on a player carrying or playing the puck, where something intervened at the last minute, such as the opposing player turning, causing an injury. This is why things like head shots and slew foots are banned. This is the problem with players like Matt Cooke and why we hate them so much. This is what needs to be taken out of the game. Players need far more respect for each other. In difficult situations, where the safety and health of another player turns on a decision you have to make, the decision should always be to not make the play and let them go. Sure they might score and make you look silly. Sure, they know the sport is risky. They know that they will be hit open ice and against the boards and that sometimes they will get hurt from these things. But this sort of thing is different. The hit was late, it was in a highly dangerous spot and Chara seemed indifferent to the consequences. Chara's opponents didn't sign up to die or be permanently injured and no game is worth taking the life of another. 

Chara had a choice and chose to take a risk with Pacioretty's life. It doesn't matter if he didn't mean to hurt the guy. The fact of the matter is, this injury was entirely foreseeable and avoidable and was wholly within Chara's power to keep from happening. This sort of reckless behaviour needs to be cut off at the head soon. The league needs to suspend Chara for the rest of the season and playoffs and send a message that taking liberties with other player's safety will not be tolerated.

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