The Wheel of Justice was given a spin around 11 a.m. ET this morning, and then around 12:30 we all used the Internet for the last time. That’s when Sportnet’s Dan Murphy reported Rome will be suspended for four games following his hit on Nathan Horton last night.
I’ll pause for a second to allow you time to reassemble your keyboard. As was the case with the nightly headshot throughout the season, Rome’s hit immediately polarizes opinion. Those who choose to reside in the hockey dark ages also reside in Vancouver, and they’ll soon be typing “HORTON SHOULD KEEP HIS HEAD UP!!!!!!!!!!11@” in the comments section below.
So before we get to that fun, here’s the hit one more time.
Rome was given the rare penalty of a five-minute major for interference, and a game misconduct. Meanwhile, Horton–who’s Boston’s second-leading scorer with 17 points in these playoffs–left the ice on a stretcher in what was a scary scene after his eyes were glazed, and his arm eerily hung in the air. He was examined at a local hospital and released this morning after being diagnosed with a severe concussion, which clearly means he’s out for the remainder of the playoffs.
There’s one indisputable fact about this hit that will probably get disputed anyway: it was late. Those defending Rome will state the obvious and say that hockey is a fast-paced game, and that stopping momentum in such a small time frame isn’t easy. They’ll also use another tired, dark ages line like “he was finishing his check.”
Sure he was, and sure it’s not easy, but there’s a time limit in which finishing a check with that kind of ferocity isn’t acceptable. There’s no shades of gray in this time frame either, and one second is too much. Should Horton have been more aware in that area of the ice? Absolutely, but similar to how it’s the responsibility of the player to control his stick, it’s also an important responsibility to control the body. Rome needed to be aware of the developing play, and change his course of action. Elite athletes–and anyone who’s in the NHL is elite to some degree–are capable of this.
Beyond the lateness of the hit a layer of murkiness develops, which is typical of most questionable hits. The casual onlooker sees the follow through of a hit, and accuses the hittee of leaving his feet to make contact. This isn’t the case here, as Rome’s skates were on the ice at the point of contact.
And was it a blindside hit? It’s pretty difficult to throw down the blindside card if the targeted player is intentionally looking in the opposite direction, and is therefore making himself blind. It’s also difficult to distinguish where the initial point of contact lies. I’ve watched this replay far too many times, and I still see Rome’s shoulder hitting Horton’s head, with most of the damage undoubtedly done when his head then hit the ice. But I can see how others would argue shoulder-to shoulder.
The main crux and point of contention however isn’t the blindside argument, or whether or not Rome left his feet. The primary reason for the suspension is that Rome was outside of that area which constitutes a hit within the proper time frame. It’s impossible to remove emotion from the equation, but if you squint really hard and hold your breath maybe that will work, and then you’ll see that four games is a little steep for a late hit. Missing two Stanley Cup Final games would have been sufficient.
The league made an example of a player who wouldn’t have been missed anyway.
UPDATE: The league confirmed the four-game suspension, and Mike Murphy issued a statement saying that the lateness of the hit was a primary focus.
“I thought it was a late hit. I thought that the body was contacted. But I also thought that the head was hit. It caused a serious injury to Nathan Horton. So the key components are the late hit, which I had it close to a second late. We have our own formula at NHL Hockey Operations for determining late hits, and it was late. We saw the seriousness of the injury with Nathan on the ice last night.
“That’s basically what we deliberated on. We tried to compare it with some of the other ones in the past. But it stands alone. It’s why we made the ruling.”
Rome’s agent Jarrett Bousquet also told The Sporting News that a move to appeal the suspension is under consideration.