“I wasn’t even trying to hit him,” Tom Wilson told the press after Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. Wilson had to watch the end of that game from the locker room, expelled from the ice following a big hit on Curtis Lazar.
What you think of the hit and the penalty depends on what you think of Tom Wilson in general. This much is clear: Wilson has a bad reputation in the league.
With 4:40 remaining in the game, Wilson backchecked hard into a lane parallel to Lazar, who had the puck near his stick.
Wilson put a hit on Lazar. “I was just trying to take away his space, and his neck snaps a little bit,” Wilson said of the collision, though he denies targeting or even connecting with Lazar’s head. Wilson said the hit happened lower.
“I think the main point of contact is hip-on-hip,” Wilson said. “I take away his space, and I don’t hit his head at all. It was maybe a little shoulder on shoulder, but I’m a big guy. I’m 220 pounds. If you’re not expecting to run into that, then you’re going to get a little bit of whiplash.”
This is what it looked like:
Lazar went down, and Chris Neil took exception. Neil choke-slammed Wilson in the corner, at which point an official finally blew the whistle. Wilson was assessed a match penalty and ejected from the game; Neil served two minutes for roughing. The Senators scored on the ensuing three-minute power play, snapping Braden Holtby’s shutout bid with Bobby Ryan’s goal.
Wilson now has 75 penalty minutes so far this season, on pace for his most penalized season yet.
CSN analyst Alan May was not pleased with the officiating. “The physical play nowadays– I don’t know if officials know what is and isn’t an illegal hit,” May said after the game. “Tom Wilson’s stick was on the ice. It’s not a match penalty. There was no intent to injure. He was actually turned away from Curtis Lazar, a smaller player.”
May continued, “I don’t know if Tom Wilson can change his game to be something else. He can’t go out there and play like Kyle Turris. That’s not the type of player he is. He’s a physical player. He needs to continue finishing his hits. He was backchecking on that play and in excellent position. A player put himself in a vulnerable position. It’s not up to Tom or any other player in the National Hockey League to worry about when other players are putting themselves in those tough spots.”
Craig Laughlin agreed, seeing persecution in the call. “I think Tom Wilson is being targeted,” Laughlin said. “He was running around a little bit. The referees take advantage of that and say ‘okay, maybe this was on the border line.’ Too much gray area. To me, I agree with Alan May. It was a backchecking situation. The guy’s head was down. Wilson was ready to make the hit. It was shoulder-to-shoulder. Maybe the back a little bit. It was how the player went down that sent Wilson to the box.”
Play-by-play man Joe Beninati usually doesn’t chime in on these matters, but he made an exception this time. “I thought Wilson was just skating his lane,” Beninati said. “I don’t think he went out of his way to make that hit. If anything, It was almost as if Lazar created the collision. Yes the head snapped. But I don’t think in the NHL’s vocabulary and verbiage, Wilson picked the head at all.”
To our eyes and with the luxury of many replays, Wilson’s explanation stands up.
Wilson uses his hips, not his shoulders to make the hit. Lazar, who is reaching for the puck, has his head down, putting himself at hazard. Wilson does not make a distinct sideways motion. He’s mostly keeping to his lane, but he’s also bracing, which makes the hit so forceful for Lazar.
That impact is actually well below Lazar’s shoulders, but because of his posture, the hit cascades up to his head, which appears to whiplash. “I don’t think he ever sees me,” Wilson said after the game.
It’s an unfortunate hit but not an egregious one. Barry Trotz said, “I don’t even know if that’s a penalty in this league,” and he might be right. A minor penalty would have a been a stretch. A match penalty is unacceptable. It should be rescinded on Thursday, and I expect it will be. Wilson’s reputation is another matter, as he’s well aware.
“I’m aware about all the rules and plays,” Wilson said. “I’m aware about blindside hits, and I try and just keep my arms at my side, take away his space, track the puck and create a turnover. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
What do you make of the hit, and what do you think of Tom Wilson’s growing reputation?
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