|After waiting four years to host the Philadelphia Flyers at GM Place, there was plenty of anticipation Wednesday night, along with a smattering of black and orange in the stands. In keeping with the Halloween theme, there were a few spooks as well.
Other than the motley score – which was scary enough on its own - Ryan Kesler suffered a stick in the jaw courtesy of Flyers forward Jesse Boulerice.
“Players are going to be looking down with the puck and get hit, like a clean shoulder check, and is going to result in a head injury,” said Trevor Linden. “We can’t penalize that - that’s part of the game.”
“What we saw last night, and what we saw with the [Steve] Downie thing, there’s absolutely no place for it and has to be dealt with very severely.”
“In that situation you control your own emotions and you control what you do,” Matt Cooke said. “Fair is fair, but there’s certain things that should be off limit, and a stick to the head is something that we don’t want surrounding our league.”
Kesler had just finished a check along the end boards behind the Philadelphia net and was turning back to enter the play when Boulerice, at 6’2” and 215 lbs, caught the unsuspecting Canucks forward with a stick to the head.
The Flyers were leading 7-2 at the time.
“From what I hear, it was pretty vicious, so I prefer not to see it,” Kesler said, who lay motionless on the ice for more than a minute before being helped to the bench. “I think he just snapped. I did nothing to him. I didn’t see him coming and he just took my head off. I think he has a reputation of doing that, so we’ll see what happens”
Boulerice was suspended for the entire 1998-99 season by the Ontario Hockey League after he struck Guelph Storm forward Andrew Long of the in the face with his stick during a playoff game.
OHL commissioner David Branch said at the time that “The League is of the opinion that player Jesse Boulerice used his stick in a most alarming and unacceptable fashion.”
Adding that, “At no time can the League accept or condone such actions and it must be clearly understood that players at all times are accountable for their actions…everyone in hockey must work together to eliminate this element from the game."
Many in the media have already compared Boulerice’s hit to Chris Simon’s attack on the Ranger’s Ryan Hollweg last season and Steve Downie’s preseason hit on Dean McAmmond of the Ottawa Senators.
Simon received 25 games, while Downie was suspended 20 games.
“I think that with the way the league is going and being strict and stern on these incidents,” said Cooke, “especially the headshot, that sooner or later guys are going to know because they’re not going to be able to play in this league.”
“They don’t have a choice,” said Alain Vigneault. “[The NHL] sent their tape out to every team saying what’s acceptable and not acceptable, and what we saw last night is definitely something that’s not acceptable. I’m sure that they’re going to take steps towards that.”
Fortunately for Kesler, Boulerice, and the Canucks, other than soreness and a few marks on his face, Kesler is healthy enough to dress Friday in Edmonton.
“I feel good, a little sore, but I feel like I can play tomorrow.”
The NHL hasn’t yet released a statement on the incident, but the overwhelming sentiment in the Canucks dressing room following Thursday’s practice, was that a suspension was likely coming, and the fact that Kesler escaped long-term injury, shouldn’t factor into the decision.
“I don’t think you can suspend on injury, you have to suspend on intent,” said Cooke.