Canada’s Zack Kassian was handed a 2 game suspension for an open ice check on defenceman Petr Senkerik during Canada's 7-2 victory over the Czech Republic on Tuesday night. It was definitely a late hit, which makes it dirty. But it was also something more. It was predatory. I generally don’t like how frequently that word is used by analysts describing big hits where guys get completely lit up.
Thing is, every check can potentially be labelled predatory. You line up an opponent for a check, you assume he’ll have his head up, doing what his Atom coach taught him. If his head is up, it’s a good, clean check. If the guy is a dufus and doesn’t watch where he’s going then the same check is inappropriately described as all vicious and evil - a predatory hit.
One of hockey’s golden rules is “Keep your head up”. It’s not an optional rule. It’s mandatory. Always. It’s as basic and crucial as looking both ways before you cross the street. If you skip either of these golden rules, expect to be unconscious very soon.
However, all that said, this one was definitely predatory. Watch the video here.
My opinion of the hit is definitely coloured by the fact Kassian has done the same thing a number of times in junior. OHL commissioner David Branch gave Kassian 20 games for the exact thing almost a year ago. That was after Kassian's check on Barrie’s Matt Kennedy. Kennedy suffered a concussion, had a three-stitch cut and needed three staples in the back of his head which slammed on the ice. Watch how Kassian stalks his prey exactly like he did Tuesday.
It’s almost like Kassian is running a drill he learned in practice. He spots a puck carrier on the far wing, skates parallel on the other wing then swoops in to destroy the player if he makes any kind of inside move at the blueline. Kassian intentionally tries to hide in his opponent’s blind spot.
In both cases, he’s clearly stalking his prey like something out of a national geographic wildlife film. So while Tuesday’s check may have been all shoulder, it was definitely predatory. Kassian is lucky OHL history doesn’t play into IIHF standards. He’d be gone for the tournament.
Kassian obviously doesn’t care. This is the way he’s been taught to play. In his draft year, he led the CHL in penalty minutes per game. His favourite player is Todd Bertuzzi, who might also have had a small run-in with hockey discipline. Can’t recall.
Thing is, suspensions obviously aren’t teaching these guys a lesson. Is this disrespect for the welfare of an opponent becoming a bigger problem in hockey? How comfortable would you be sending your teenager to play amateur hockey against players like Kassian? What can be done? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
By the way, note to the Senators. In a couple of years, you’ll be facing the Buffalo Sabres with both Patrick Kaleta and Zack Kassian on their roster. Wow. Head on a swivel, boys.