Image from the Edmonton Journal

Image from the Edmonton Journal

Most hockey players who’ve played contact hockey have done something they regret within seconds of doing it. An error in judgement, a mis-read gone bad, or a quick flick of anger gone uncontrolled can leave your opponent writhing in pain and your conscience heavy. Occasionally on-ice violence is carried out with pre-meditated aggression, but often you feel the same reaction as when you miss an open net. Arms out to the sides, head up to the God’s, and a general “Oh man, why…” expression.

I generally believe kneeing is never in the pre-meditated aggression category, and always results in near-immediate thought “oh f*** what’d I do?,” even if you have to pretend it wasn’t all that bad and hey why is everyone so upset?

Here’s why:

Kneeing generally comes from getting “locked in” on a hit (I’ve written about that before). You see a guy coming up the ice from a ways a way, note that he seems distracted and is putting himself in a vulnerable position, and think “I’m gonna light this guy up.” And, the intent is usually clean. “I’m going bury my shoulder into this punk’s chest, make him yard sale his equipment all over the ice, get the crowd on their feet, and we’ll take the puck and go the other way. That’s allowed in hockey.

You’re locked in.

But then things don’t go exactly as you saw them unfolding in your head. The puck takes a hop and suddenly the guy you have in your sights is puck-less, and your hit is going to be late. The puck comes to you and you were so distracted by the glory of levelling an opponent you make a stupid play. Or, in the case of kneeing, the player makes a sharp cut out of your perfect line, and suddenly you’re committed to a hit you’re going to whiff on and you’re going to look like an ass.

And there’s your knee. Not because he veered out of your line and now the direct alignment is off, but because he veered entirely out of your path, and you have to extend your knee/thigh to get a piece of him. In a nutshell, you’re going to look foolish on an entirely whiffed hit, or you’re going to get a small piece of the guy. Those are your options. And not every “piece” hit looks terrible, sometimes it’s just a clip and you both spin and nobody goes down and game on.

But other times, it looks like the Taylor Hall play on Cal Clutterbuck. The intent isn’t terrible – it’s just to through a big open ice hit, but because things changed and Hall was going to look silly taking a run at a guy and missing, he made the selfish play of extending into his opponent to save face. And that’s the type of thing that tears apart knees, and the moment you do it you put your head to sky because you know. You’re boned, and you just hurt someone in the process. That was bad, and it happened because you were looking out for numero uno.

Hall’s likely going to get two games for his knee, and that’s about right – he hurt someone being selfish. I don’t care if the principle point of contact was the hip (though the image at the top of the post suggest otherwise) – he’s hanging it all out there to be sure he gets a piece and doesn’t look like a goof.

Comments (33)

  1. Really good explanation! I think you’re exactly right on this.

  2. I agree with you. Arguing intent is what’s keeping him form getting more than 2 days in my mind. The good news is the Cal was on the plane with his team to Calgary and was icing his thigh. He does have a history of Charlie horses so hopefully that’s what it was. I’m a little embarrassed being an oilers fan (for once not because of our record) due to the fact that we have thrown two knees on Clutterbuck now. On the OTHER good side, I have tickets to their next game at the Xcel, OK so its just good for me

  3. Any word on how long Clutterbuck is out?

  4. This article is the exact reason I read this blog. It comes from someone who played (contact) hockey and understands the intricacies of the game. That said, I do slightly disagree with one thing. To me, it looks like Hall still had the opportunity to put a shoulder into Clutterbuck and really light him up. Clutterbuck didn’t cut away hard enough that Hall had to reach out with his leg.

    • I don’t believe Hall still had the ability to hit Clutterbuck with his shoulder. Clutterbuck was cutting to hard the other way and his upper body was turned away from Hall. Had Clutterbuck been facing Hall more face on…then probably. And also Hall was pretty low as he was cutting and mostly likely loading his legs for the big hit that never happened the way he probably wanted. Had he tried to put his shoulder in it would have been awkward and most likely would have caused him to leave his feet . Clutterbuck is a big boy and Hall knows it. Leaning any further out to try and make contact with the shoulder and Hall would have been the one layed out. Which still goes back to it being a selfish play.

      • Sean, you may be right. At that body angle, if Hall does put a shoulder into Clutterbuck Hall may end up receiving the bulk of it and spin out.

        • This is exactly my problem with the hit, though. I think your explanation is right, that Hall didn’t really want the contact that would have come with a full hit, and so he took the path of nearly least resistance and went low. A pretty cheap maneuver that has the potential to end someone’s career..

    • I agree that Hall could have still made the hit with his shoulder, but after the game Hall said something to the effect of wanting to let up and avoid hitting Clutterbuck’s head (take his statement for what you will). Maybe he got locked in to the hit, had that hesitation, and the knee extension was a product of him still trying to get some part of Clutterbuck after over-thinking the play?

      One other reason I think malicious, intentional kneeing is probably fairly rare is that it seems to have the chance to really injuring the perpetrator. Didn’t that essentially happen with Ovechkin in a ‘Canes game a year or two back? If I were planning to take a guy out on a dirty play, I can think of a lot safer (for me) ways of doing it.

  5. Fankly, I have no problem with this hit. Solely because it happened to Clutterbuck. If Hall does this to Tootoo and Cooke the next time they play, then he should be awarded something special instead of suspended.

    • Oh ya? It’s ok cause it happened to Clutterbuck? Why’s that? Certainly not, like I’m sure you’ll claim, that he’s a dirty player. Find me a video of a dirty Cal Clutterbuck hit, please. I’d love to see one.

      • I’d say the dive he threw in the preseason game that got Wiz suspended for like 8-10 games in the realm of pretty dirty. It was not intentially hurting someone, which I think the other guys was insinuating, but acting like a dildo none the less. I really like Clutterbuck, but that was kinda of a shit bag play and cost Wizniewski a chunk of games last season.

        • C’mon, man, the guy is an annoying player at times but he certainly doesn’t deserve to have his playing days ended/reduced. He’s not in Ulf Samuelsson territory, right?

        • Dive, really? That elbow to the face had nothing to do with him falling I guess. You know what Wiz could’ve done to avoid missing a chunk of games? Not elbow someone in the face after the whistle.

      • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xq_cNZjaSK0

        Here’s a nice dirty hit from behind by Clutterbuck on.. oh who wears number 4 for Edmonton again? Ask and ye shall receive.

        • Not from behind. He hits him from the front, actually, at worst he hits Hall’s shoulder. A boarding penalty, sure. Not particularly dirty though. I guess I should’ve been more clear, find me a suspendable Clutterbuck hit.

        • That is not a dirty hit. Penalty, yes. Hit from behind, no.

          • Watch the first few seconds again. Hall starts with the puck and plays it up the wall off his backhand and watches his pass, turning away from Clutterbuck. The replays don’t show the play up the wall. The replays don’t make it clear he’s watching his pass. The replays don’t show him turning away from Clutterbuck.

  6. Man do knee-on-knees ever hurt! I play rec baseball and was playing third last summer. I had my glove extended to catch a throw to make the oncoming runner out. Even though my foot was in the back corner of the bag she still ran straight into my knee and I was down for the count in tears. Couldn’t walk without slight pain for months.

    • Knee-to-knee hits hurt even if the contact is not intentional. I’ve taken 2 or 3 during my last few years of rec hockey and I usually have to sit a shift or two out before I can play again. None were on purpose and merely two players not seeing the other in time. So I can’t even imagine the pain Clutterbuck was in.

  7. Thats good news, last night I was sure he tore his ACL/MCL upon crashing on the ice, or broke his fu^*ing femur.

    I love Hall, but Yeo is right, what if it was reversed, Clutter on Hall? I can’t imagine the outrage from Edmonton. The kid needs to grow up fast, always losing his shit. 2 mins left? Garbage.

  8. Can we take a moment to enjoy Clutterbucks team mate who grabs the puck, skates by him while he’s on the ice in pain and tries to go in for a scoring chance.

  9. Wouldn’t you say it’s more reactionary than even a thought of “I gotta get a piece of him”. I didn’t play at any level higher than some Junior games so my skill level is farther down but having gone knee to knee with someone before, my thought after it happened was “did I really even stick my knee out?” Only to have the ref emphatically tell me yes. I didn’t even think about it, just left it out there. Maybe this is what you are saying, just in different words, but I think so much of the game is just reactions and instincts that the thought of getting your knee out doesn’t even consciously enter your mind, you just do it because like you said, your gonna miss him.

    Great post, and like someone said above, your perspective makes for a great read.

  10. Pet peeve here…fighting a guy after a clean, hard hit seems to be endemic these days, yet after a hit like this the best they can muster is a little push? Geez, this is Taylor Hall, not Nick Fotiu. First guy to encounter him should be dropping the gloves in a heart beat, and if he happens to be a heavyweight, so be it. The “code” ought not apply when someone is as cheap/reckless as Hall was here.

  11. I wouldn’t suspend him, he did let up and could have really nailed him. It is a tough sport, if you don’t want bad accidents then watch Curling.

  12. Your description nailed it.
    It was quite simply a case of hunting for a hit in the neutral zone-and who gives a damn about the puck.
    The dangerous head hunting, hits from behind, and kneeing will never end until the punishment matches the crime.
    I have always been, and remain, in favour of a rule that suspends the instigator of an illegal hit for the same period of time as the recipient is out by virtue of the injury inflicted + whatever penalties are currently imposed.

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