« back to article: East gets back on impressive track

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The Minnesota Wild won at Colorado Tuesday night to claim the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference as the NHL breaks for its all-star game, which will be held in Ottawa. That’s a good thing for the Wild, although Mikko Koivu’s injury, which will cost him a chance to play in the all-star game, is not a good thing, although he’ll benefit from the rest.

Meanwhile, the whole hockey world is caught up, justifiably, in trying to curtail concussions and injuries from rough play. In high school hockey, officials reacting to a new tightening of the rules are calling a lot of major and misconduct penalties on marginal hits the might have even gone unpenalized in recent years. That’s a good thing, overall, but a word of caution is mandatory. If there is a good chance that a good, stiff bodycheck will lead to a major and game disqualification, some top players may take the first opportunity to leave high school for the USHL junior hockey league. That would not be a good thing.

At the NHL level, the league has a history of being particularly harsh to Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Caps’ Mad Russian. Ovechkin is perhaps the league’s biggest attraction, and he plays aggressively. Interesting, isn’t it, that right now the three most spectacular players in the NHL are Russians, with Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit, Alexander Malkin of Pittsburgh, and Ovechkin all playing at their peaks. But a few days ago, Ovechkin went in forechecking hard against Pittsburgh, and when he saw Zbynek Michalek with the puck in the right corner, he sailed in at him. Ovechkin stopped striding and came at a fast glide, and at the last instant, he jumped up a couple inches off the ice as he popped Michalek with a bodycheck. There was no penalty called on the play, which seemed fitting and proper. But the league office, which had penalized Ovechkin in the past, seized the opportunity to show they can enforce a progressive discipline, and they suspended him for three games.

When I heard that, and saw video of the incident, I said to my son that the NHL wants to promote itself by using Ovechkin, but they also are quick to be too strong in disciplining him, and I wouldn’t blame him if he informed the NHL that he was not going to play in the All-Star Game. Only a few minutes later, word came over the internet that Ovechkin announced he wouldn’t play in the All-Star Game, and the report said the announcement came a short time after the NHL suspended Ovechkin. Good move, Alex. I don’t blame you.