It’s Gut Check Time

There are two sides to every story.

Last night in the moments where Max Pacioretty laid motionless on the ice, every person in the hockey world found themselves floating somewhere towards the two extremes. One where Bruins defensemen Zdeno Chara should have been escorted from the locker room by the authorities and placed within the Quebec  penitentiary system. The other resembling a world in which Chara was a gentle giant like Lennie from Of Mice and Men, who just happened to crush a mouse because he didn’t know any better.

This morning in the hangover of an event like this, after all the replays and insider analysis, we are all trying to find our spot on the chart as to which of these extremes we are leaning towards. We know that  in our heads either extreme would be an ignorant stance to take, but in our heart of hearts, in the brief instant before filtering our thoughts and making an educated statement we were on one side or the other.

For a brief instant we lived in a world where our gut told us that what had happened was either a premeditated act or a freak accident. In my brief instant, I thought we would be waking up today to a National Hockey League mourning a 22-year-old who was paralyzed because of a play that was intentional and could have been avoided.

That was my gut instinct.

There are multiple arguments to both sides, which I’m not going to list off. A lot of editorials today will tip toe through them for you, and let you make your educated decision. Telling you what appeared to happen.

I’m not here to help you make your educated decision. I’m here to tell you mine.

It’s true that a play like this anywhere else on the ice would have resulted in at the max an interference penalty. In a game with two heated rivals it would likely be ignored all together, and I agree with that logic.

But this play didn’t happen anywhere else on the ice. It happened in a position where one player was more vulnerable than if it was along the other wall. It happened in a spot where both players were facing that dasher, saw it coming, and knew that if one went any more to the left, the one on the inside was going to hit it.

Do I think Chara wanted to see Pacioretty carried of the ice motionless?  Absolutely not. Do I think he intentionally pushed him into the turnbuckle? Unfortunately yes.

There is no doubt that hockey is probably the fastest game on the planet. So fast in fact that decisions are made almost instinctively. Since there is no time for Chara to think about the consequences of such a play, he acted on his gut, took his chances, and pushed Max Pacioretty into the dasher. Because of his taking that chance, today Pacioretty is seriously injured.

Maybe angled differently Pacioretty gets up and goes after Chara and a brawl ensues. This discussion never takes place. Angled another way maybe this morning there are flowers laid along the entrance of the Bell Centre with pictures of Pacioretty. Who knows. But if we run our scale of right and wrong off of how injured the other player ends up maybe we need to reevaluate what really matters. Shooting a gun at someone and missing by a few inches doesn’t make it any better than hitting your target dead on.

If Pacioretty just slowly gets up from this play and is simply shaken up, Bruins fans cheer and loop the video in the inception themed pregame highlights at the Garden and cheer. If the clubs are flipped I would expect the Canadiens to do the same. But he didn’t get up, and in our heads we got a brief glimpse of how easily players can be seriously injured, and it boggles my mind as to how there aren’t injuries this scary every single week.

I’m not here to put Chara on a cross or to say it’s all a part of the game. In simpler words, I think Chara put Pacioretty into the dasher on purpose. I don’t think he intended to severely injure him, but it was a play that could have been avoided. The puck was gone.  It rolls across the blue line as Pacioretty floats in mid-air above the red line, Chara’s motion still pushing through him.

I’m not really interested in suspensions or disciplinary hearings. I’m not going to grab a pitchfork and torch and go parading down to Causeway Street if Chara leaves his meeting with only a warning.

The tablecloth pulled over this incident would lead you to believe its a battle of who’s right and who’s wrong. But there will never be an answer there. It’s what you felt in that brief moment that tells you the truth. It’s your truth. It’s what you believe. Chara has his truth, and Pacioretty has his, and we will never know these, but they are the only ones that aren’t viewed through any sort of filtered lenses.

More importantly this was a reminder for me that the chips these men are betting on aren’t play money. It’s their blood, and their brains, and their overall well being. They take the same chances night in and night out. Every race for the puck in the corner with a forechecker on your tail a roll of the dice where one in a thousand times you get upended and go head first into the boards.

These chances will never be fully removed from our game. Its what makes hockey what it is. But pushing Pacioretty over the boards was a roll of the dice that Chara didn’t have to take.

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