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?
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.