The New York Islanders were soundly defeated 5-2 by the New Jersey Devils Friday night at “The Rock” in Newark, ending their three game winning streak. But what had the Islanders more angry was a head shot by New Jersey defenseman Mike Mottau that injured Isles’ center Frans Nielsen in the third period. Nielsen suffered undisclosed head and leg injuries of the result of the hit. He is listed as day-to-day pending additional medical examinations which are expected to take place Saturday.
The incident took place at the 3:22 mark of the third period. Nielsen had the puck and was carrying it down the right wing and into the New Jersey zone. He had a pick from Andy Hilbert to get past the first Devils’ defenseman and started to cut towards the center of the ice when Mottau skated across the ice towards Nielsen and left his feet to deliver an elbow to Nielsen’s head. The Islander center’s head hit the ice and his leg landed awkwardly as well. Trent Hunter came in to deliver a message to Mottau and was promptly given an instigating minor, a fighting major and a 10 minute misconduct. Mottau received an elbowing minor for the hit on Nielsen and a fighting major but was not ejected from the game for the hit.
Islander captain Bill Guerin was angered by the hit and plainly stated that Mottau deserves a suspension for his actions.
“I know it was to the head,” Guerin stated plainly. “It’s easy to see. I came in and I watched it on video just to make sure I wasn’t speaking out of line. I know Mike Mottau. He’s not a dirty player, but it was a dirty hit. Thomas Pock‘s not a dirty player. He had a dirty hit against Ottawa and he paid for it.”
Pock received a five-game suspension for his actions and has two more games to serve before he is eligible to return.
“I’m just sick and tired of hearing how the Players Association has to get together on this,” Guerin told Newsday. “There’s a lot of people involved. There’s the players, the referees and then there’s the league. I think everybody has a hand in this game. We all have the responsibility to this game to make it better. It’s up to the players to respect each other more. It’s getting ridiculous. And the referees enforce things on the ice, and the league will handle it. Hopefully, they will start handing out stiffer penalties. It takes away from the game. Too many guys go down.”
The elbow by Mottau comes less than a week after NHL Vice President Colin Campbell issued a fax indicating that the league would be cracking down on any blows to the head. In addition to Pock’s suspension, Ottawa’s Jarkko Ruutu was suspended two games for a head shot he delivered to Montreal’s Maxim Lapierre.
Among the factors taken into consideration by the league when determining suspensions are the severity of the hit, the reputation of the offender and the severity of the injury suffered by the victim of the hit.
Devils’ coach Brent Sutter, who was outraged earlier this season on a hit by Doug Weight against his son, Brandon Sutter, of Carolina, was less certain that Mottau deserves a suspension for his hit on Nielsen. “[Mottau] came across and [Nielsen] was in front, so, I don’t know. He got the two-minute minor penalty on it. If the player didn’t get hurt, his ankle or the bottom part of his leg, that’s what it is. It’s a two-minute minor penalty. I didn’t see it after the game, so, I can’t really say.”
The league should review the hit some time over the weekend. The fact that Mottau left his feet to deliver the blow certainly will not work in his favor.
The time has come for the NHL to take head shots seriously. The NFL provides a good role model for dealing with blows to the head. Regardless of intent or if a penalty is called on the play, the league hands out fines to players who hit opponents in the head in order to discourage future incidents. Like the NFL, the NHL does not want to legislate hitting and physical play out of the game but it must act to protect the long term and short term health of its players.
An additional step the league and the NHLPA can take is to mandate a change to softer shoulder and elbow pads that can provide the same amount of protection to the player wearing them but will not hurt players on the receiving end of blows.
The ball is now in Colin Campbell’s court. Let’s hope the league takes appropriate action in this and in future cases.