Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Gaudreau defuses unwarranted criticism of McAvoy’s big hit

Matt Kalman
October 19, 2018 - 2:58 pm

Give Calgary Flames sniper Johnny Gaudreau credit: he stands just 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, but Friday he proved he’s as big a man as he is a star.

Gaudreau practiced with his teammates two days after he was knocked out of the Flames’ 5-2 win against the Bruins by a hit from Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who nailed Gaudreau in a battle for a rebound in the third period.

McAvoy earned a two-minute interference minor and Gaudreau stayed in the game for the power play before he was removed by the concussion spotters. Gaudreau did not return for the final 10 minutes of the game.

Among hysterical calls from some in Western Canada for supplementary discipline for McAvoy, Gaudreau proved Friday to be a voice of reason and even took some of the blame for the hit and its result, as Eric Francis of Sportsnet reported:

Gaudreau should have a conversation with his coach Bill Peters. After the game Peters seemed to believe a line was crossed because a Bruins player had the audacity to his one of the Flames’ stars.

“I know the league is trying to crack down on that stuff,” Peters told Sportsnet. “You’ve got to protect the star players to a certain degree. People come to an NHL game and want to see the marquee names perform. Hopefully it’s minor.”

There are so many things wrong with Peters’ statement, even if it’s understandable folks on the other side of North America are a little sensitive about hits to smaller, lighter star players in the aftermath of Florida defenseman Mike Matheson’s hit on Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson. (The hit rightly earned Matheson a two-game suspension because his injuring of Pettersson wasn’t result of the hit but the subsequent shove to the ice).

First problem with Peter’s statement: the league shouldn’t be in the business of protecting “stars.” The league should want to protect everyone equally and the notion that there should be favoritism smells, even if we know pro sports officials sometimes dole out preferential treatment. The league reaches greater levels of success on star players’ shoulders, but it wouldn’t exist without the role players and lesser-known guys and they all should have the right to not get their head picked off or get slammed down to the ice like Pettersson.

That’s why if any hit from the Bruins’ trip to Alberta was worthy of supplemental discipline consideration it was Edmonton defenseman Matt Benning’s head shot to Bruins forward David Backes in the first period of the Oilers’ 3-2 overtime win Thursday.

If Benning wanted to avoid Backes’ head, he could have; but he didn’t. As of late Friday afternoon, the Department of Player Safety had not commented on the hit.

Back to Peters, the second problem with his statement is that McAvoy hit Gaudreau while the puck was the midst of getting cleared from about a foot away from where the two players came together. This was a hockey play and the type of hit that wouldn’t have affected a bigger, stronger player the way it impacted Gaudreau. Players like Gaudreau are willing to reap the benefits of being smaller and faster to score goals and make plays; they should be prepared to face the consequences when physicality (legal physicality) comes into the equation.

Based on his comments about his frequent USA Hockey teammate, Gaudreau understands the above-mentioned points. Peters, the rest of the Flames and the Calgary-centric pundit class should take a lesson from Gaudreau.

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