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Options For Avenging a Cheapshot Are Pretty Limited



Interesting timing – I was going through some columns that I had deemed unfit to release from a few months ago, and found this one about what David Booth can do to avenge getting his brain shaken by Mike Richards (short answer: nothing).  But after Matt Cooke played the role of Richards in a recent re-enactment with Mark Savard, it seems relevant again.



What Now?

-by Justin Bourne


Mike Richards scrambled David Booth’s eggs so thoroughly that the guy was no longer free range. It happened on a hit you’d be polite to describe as “questionable”.

Confined to the couch and bed, he avoided exercise like all concussion-cases, letting things heal themselves using the best known medication – time – and has since made his return to the Florida Panthers.

He watched Mike Richards get punished in the form of… um… he got punished by… er… really, he didn’t even get a game suspension?  What the crap?

From David Booth’s perspective, you have to think the fella’s a little pissed.  He narrowly missed being named to the US Olympic team, and was denied the chance to prove his worth over the course of this season, while Richards snuck onto one Team Canada as one of the last forwards chosen (they like that he plays a physical game, you see).

Without their top goal scorer (Booth had 31 goals last year), the team is currently a few points out of a playoff spot, and just behind… the Philadelphia Flyers, who are now technically in the playoffs.

Needless to say, the aftershocks of a decision made by Richards that happened in a split second are still reverberating throughout the Eastern Conference standings.

Florida played Philly about a month back and lumped them up 4-1, even without their star Booth.  That was nice, but had they had him all season, who knows how many 2-1 games would have gone Florida’s way, or shootout losses would’ve gotten nullified with Booth in the lineup.  Game breakers are tough to come by, and to be so close to the playoffs without theirs, the Panthers have a right to gripe.

In these cases, when you or a teammate gets drilled, people always tell you to beat them on the scoreboard.  That doing that is the best revenge.  That the scoreboard is where it really hurts.

Is it though?  What’s Booth supposed to do when he comes back, try really really hard to win?  You don’t think he was doing that before, and every other night of his career?  He can’t control how the rest of his team plays.  Maybe he’ll show up with his “A” game to beat the Flyers the next time they play but Florida won’t win.  In hockey, you’re just one piece in a big team puzzle.

Tying to beat up your assailant isn’t the right answer either.  Though noble, by the “fight him” logic, the toughest guys on the ice have free rein to destroy people, because you can’t ever get real physical revenge on a fight-winning human like George Laraques (though I’m sure Nicklas Kronwall would like to try, stick in hand, of course).  You can always try, but if you get hit by a tougher dude, the only thing you get by going after him when you’re healthy is a chance to be made unhealthy again.

Also, there’s the whole moral thing, which can be a hassle.  You’re supposed to be above that, you know.

There’s the idea that the player who injures another player illegally should be out as long as the player he injured, but that theory’s got more holes than an OJ alibi.  I won’t even go into that theory.

So if you’re David Booth, how do you avenge the Richards hit? 

Maybe you don’t.  Maybe you just take your lumps, acknowledge you play in a contact league, and that hits like that – whoever’s to blame for them - are periodically gonna happen.

But that’s frustrating bullshit too.

The second you see Richards you’re going to want to hit him with a tire iron.

There’s just nothing you can do.  When you get seriously injured in the NHL, not only do you suffer temporary and long-term health concerns, you suffer the mental misery from not having a way to settle the score.

This is why the reaction towards dangerous hits from the league is so crucial.  Low-balling the seriousness of a hit is a crime nearly as bad as the hit itself.

I’m a Canadian hockey player who loves watching the rough stuff.  But in an era where players have to answer less and less for their actions on the ice, we need to hold them more and more responsible from the offices off the ice.  Especially in light of the recent data the NFL has been digging up about the seriously harmful long term effects of concussions.

The only way to get players to exercise more caution is to keep dropping suspensions that get players to snap awake like we dumped cold water on them.  They’ll bitch, they’ll complain ….and they’ll stop finishing “questionable” plays.

Too little, too late for David Booth, but don’t worry.  He’ll get ‘em on the scoreboard, where it hurts the most.


Authors note:  As you probably know, David Booth did try to fight Mike Richards.  After seeing how it went down,  I was glad it happened.  Nobody got hurt, Richards gave Booth his fair shot, and it was over.  That said, other than gaining respect in the hockey world, nothing changed in the big picture.  Booth missed half a season while Richards didn’t miss a shift, the Panthers are still just out of playoffs, and Booth missed the Olympics while Richards has a gold medal.  And, Richards team will most likely make playoffs.  Some of you may not have thought that hit was bad, but I did, so I’m just using it as an example to illustrate a point.  This article isn’t just about those two.


23 Responses to “Options For Avenging a Cheapshot Are Pretty Limited”
  1. Char says:

    Perhaps this is the sort of thing that gave birth to the concept of karma.

    At any rate, the only thing more sickening than the hit on Savard was that it wasn’t even penalized. What, no penatly for deliberate attempt to injure? Because that’s what it was.

    Justin, a question for you: The reaction among some Bruins fans to the perceived lack of reaction by the Bruins to the hit on Savard has been vicious. With the situation as it was (five minutes left, trailing 2-1, fighting for a playoff spot), as a former player, do you agree with the Bruins’ aim to focus on trying to score, or do you think they should have just forgotten that and pounded the living daylights out of the Penguins?

  2. jtbourne says:

    In the end, if everyone does their job, players don’t have to play policeman – they can focus on the important aspect of hockey, hockey. The Bruins have no room to give games away to send a message – the message sending time is over, and it’s time to reap the rewards of the ones you sent earlier in the year. I’m on board with them trying to win first, which means you’re trusting the league to un-fuck itself, so to speak.

  3. WWPKD says:

    Cookes hit wasn’t a flagrant violation of the rules, but it sure as hell wasn’t clean. “Having said that,” as long as there is no high elbow or hands to the bucket, hits like that in the open ice are fair game as far as im concerned (says the guy with the NHL Center Ice Package). I think that taking that shot puts Savard in a vulnerable position and he should have learned that in Peewees. As a player at the highest level, you should be responsible for protecting yourself (against clean open ice hits) by not putting your body in that position. I am in no way complimenting Cook or encouraging hits like that, but from a former player/current fans perspective, I would much rather watch a game with guys hitting hard and clean in the open ice than one where guys are free to Johnny Weir their way across the middle of the offensive zone carelessly and uncontested. It’s a hard, fast, rough sport and you gotta be willing to risk a few conc-ies if you wanna make some show dough.

  4. jtbourne says:

    It’s not a ridiculous point to make, I understand that point of view. But I played at a high level for years and found myself able to consciously process what was happening and avoid hitting a guy in a bad situation (which my coaches probably hated).

    When guys follow through on hits like the Cooke one, it may not be as egregious as we make it out to be, but its just so avoidable. I get it: there are times when you almost wanna punish a guy for making himself so vulnerable, especially when you have him lined up and he doesn’t know you’re there. Also, there are times when you go to hit a guy, and you’re almost going to miss him, so rather than miss him and look dumb, you try to catch a piece of him – a very dangerous piece of him.

    Personally (unlike Puck Daddy at Yahoo!), I think the Richards hit was worse that this one. As for this one, I thought it was almost lazy, and done so he can keep puffing out his chest and fill his role as the teams sandpaper.

  5. Goody says:

    Here’s what I see with the Cooke hit.

    In the seconds leading up to the hit, Savard has his back to Cooke. He didn’t turn from Cooke, he had his back to Cooke because of where the puck/play was. Savard can not see Cooke. He can guess there is a player over there, but he shouldn’t be expecting to be hit by a player who is behind him. Checking from behind is still illegal right?

    Savard shoots, and only in the instant after he releases the puck does his head/body turn on the follow through enough that Cooke might be in his peripheral vision. At that point (try pausing at 1:06 or 1:07 of the video) Cooke can’t be more than 3 feet from Savard. Let’s do some math shall we. Cooke is traveling at what 20mph? Let’s be ‘safe’ and go with 10mph. 5280 ft in a mile right? So 10mph = 52800 ft/h. Still 3600 seconds in an hour right? So 52800 ft/hr = 14.7 ft/sec. If my estimation of 3 feet is accurate, Savard would’ve had a fifth (.20) of a second to react (again if Cooke is traveling at a mere 10 mph). There are a lot of reaction time tests available on the internet. Do a search, test yours. Mine averaged about a quarter (.25) of a second. Hopefully a professional hockey player has a quicker reaction time than me, but even so Savard had no chance to protect himself.

    So maybe Savard shouldn’t put himself in a ‘dangerous situation’. Maybe he shouldn’t pull up just inside the blue line, coral a pass and attempt a shot without first looking around to make sure no opposing player is headed his way. If he’s going to do that, he may as well not even dress.

  6. Char says:

    Thanks for the response, Justin. I agree.

    And good stuff, Goody.

    A big problem with the Cooke hit is that if he just checked Savard, it would have been a good tough check. But if you watch closely, you can see him stick his arm out at the last moment and deliberately catch Savard in the head. Whether it was his elbow making contact or his shoulder or somewhere in between is irrelevant. He was deliberately aiming at Savard’s head, which is inexcusable. I’m hoping he gets at least 10 games, but it’ll probably be five.

  7. Pete L says:

    Great job on this touchy subject. I would have been happy to see Booth hit Richards with the Zamboni when he was finally able to come back.

    I loved the Cooke interview after the game. “I thought it was a shoulder to shoulder check. I was hit the exact same way on the shift before that one in center ice.” Sorry Matt, we must have missed you laying on the ice–unconscious–while the game one on around you!

  8. Alan says:

    Here’s hoping when the GMs meet this week, their 10 man committee develops a consensus to responsibly address the head-shot issue. Too much talent is currently being sacrificed on the altar of finishing checks at any price. What are your thoughts on no-touch icing JT?

  9. minnesotagirl71 says:

    I’m thinking I should submit this under a false name…. Someone help me out here…I know this sounds like a stupid question, but other than to knock an opponent off the puck, what is the purpose of hitting? Did the Cooke on Savard hit serve a purpose? Savard had already shot the puck. Cooke had time to veer off and miss him, but chose to hit him. Why? What was accomplished? (My question isn’t just about the Cooke/Savard hit but is regarding any hit after the guy has gotten rid of the puck.)

  10. Neil says:

    Maybe the Bruins didn’t react because they were worried someone would get their face smashed in.

    Weird that it hasn’t come up more in this context but you’re so dead on with your comments about Philly being poised to make the playoffs while Florida sits out (not to mention Booth missing the Olympics, where an extra top scorer could have made the difference between silver and gold). Sickening to think of it that way.

    The suspensions are such a joke. I don’t feel that strongly about eliminating head shots, mostly because I like the general idea but have zero faith in the NHL officials to be able to make the calls properly. I really worry that a no-head-shots rule will quickly turn into guys skating through the neutral zone with their heads down (sure, Phaneuf can pinch and rail him, but if Nash’s head is down, how does Dion throw that hit without head contact?), or even doing it deliberately to draw penalties. But hits like Cooke’s are simpler than that, thank God. If you accept that there is a rule being broken, then the idea of suspending a guy for 2-4 games for intent to injure (for a period presumably much longer than 2-4 games) is obviously not seriously intended to stop the behaviour. If you agree that it was dirty and intentional, what the hell does a 2 game suspension matter? A guy like Boogaard wouldn’t even be in the NHL if there were lengthy suspensions for dirty hits, he can’t skate, shoot, or pass, he’s got 500 penalty minutes and 15 points in 250 NHL games, but when he goes flying at a guy and tries to pop his knee he gets 2 games. At least Carcillo can play. Boogaard will be back in a week and he’ll do it again to keep his job making “show dough”.
    A guy ran our goalie in a rec game once, no call. I went over to the ref and said “you’re going to kick me out if I go over there and drill the guy for that, so it’s up to you to protect our goalie by penalizing that shit”. His response was to stare off into the distance and skate away. That’s exactly how the NHL officials and Campbell treat hits like this, too much power without any accountibility. Maybe a better question is, what can FANS do if the league keeps accepting and even encouraging dirty hits?

  11. Neil says:

    Geez I dunno folks. Just watched the Cooke hit a few times, it doesn’t look to me like he pulls his elbow up (his arm moves but it looks like the contact is shoulder to head). Definitely a clear hit to the head and probably intentional, but is that illegal? I don’t make the rules…. I’m just saying, Cooke didn’t leave his feet and I don’t think he used his elbow. Savard is facing the net and Cooke is facing the left board, so it’s a hit from the side at worst, I don’t see how that can be called a hit from behind. This might be no penalty/no suspension. I’m not saying he should get a medal, but if that’s a suspension, doesn’t that mean there is a “no head shots” rule? just my opinion

  12. Beckmann says:

    Gotta disagree on this one. If you look around the 1:45 mark of the video Cooke’s number’s on his arm definitely make contact with Savard’s head. That’s all elbow in my book.

  13. Beckmann says:

    TSN has a couple different views of the hit that show it better.

  14. JDP says:

    The funny (or not so funny) subplot to this particular hit is the fact that Matt Cooke, whos in no danger of winning any popularity contests around the league himself, probably woke up to more than one congratulatory “attaboy” text message this morning from some of his peers. That Savard, while “wicked” talented, is one of the most intensely disliked players in the league. Hate to see anybody get their marbles shaken up, regardless of who it is, but I’m sure there were some sly grins.

  15. Kaszycki's Krew says:

    Justin, I am from the generation that grew up watching Bobby Bourne play :) A true treat and pleasure to watch him all those years….and an important part of my growing up. Tell him he is still loved on Long Island !

    I am not so much interested in your opinion on the legality of the hit – or – the potential suspension. Just back in my youth – The Ranger$ go after Mr. LaFontaine…….and Mr. Baumgartner and Mr. Vukota decided to “have a dance” with the Ranger$. If you touched Mr. Gretzky, Mr. Semenko would want to “have some dialogue” with you. If you touched Mr. Brett Hull, Mr. Twist and Mr. Chase would be stopping by for a chat.

    My question – Doesnt’ it matter WHO Matt Cooke and Mike Richards hit? My whole problem was with that pre-season hit by Dion “The Turtle” Phaneuf against Kyle Okposo. I was happy as hell that Morency went after him and that Matt Martin asked him to dance later right on the spot. In each case – the opponent took out the leading goal scorer (if I am not mistaken) and retailiation is ESSENTIAL. Let me put it this way – if a 4th line part timer was hit by Cooke – that’s life. But Marc Savard ? That is a problem. Your thoughts ?

  16. Neil says:

    Ya yer right Beckmann, I’m watching this clip ( and his numbers seem to hit Savard in the head at around 1:38 That’s a tough one. If I stop it at 1:39, it looks like Savard’s head is snapping back but Cooke’s elbow seems about neck height, same with at 1:41, my feeling is that if that was elbow contact, the elbow would have hit him in the neck but Savard clearly gets hit right in the head. His numbers hit him but those numbers seem just below his shoulder on the jersey, not overtop of his elbow, the Pens jerseys have that little stripe of yellow on the elbow, above the white strip I dunno, I’m still not sure either way but that’s a close one (I can’t find the clips on
    On a sidenote, it seems kinda crazy that the difference between a dirty, suspendable hit and a clean hit could be a matter of inches on which part of your arm you crack the guy’s head with… :(

  17. Travelchic59 says:

    The NHL is wating for someone to die on the ice.Once that happens (and it will eventually) they will get off their collective asses and make some sort of head shot ruling. But not before then. The people running the league are reactionaries and not smart enough to be pro-active.

  18. Char says:

    JDP, it used to be that way about Savard, but he’s changed — grown and matured — since joining the Bruins, and the attitude of his peers has changed along with it. It’s difficult to imagine him wearing the “A” a few years back, but he regularly takes a turn with it now (the Bruins alternate the “A” amongst a few select veterans).

  19. fish says:

    As far as I can see, it’s not an elbow to the head. Cooke’s upper left arm is tucked in against his body and hits Savard’s head directly.

    I think minnesotagirl71 makes an excellent point. Every NHL game I’ve been blessed to see this season has had at least a couple “late” hits. Hitting a player when he no longer has the puck is a late hit to me. In this case Savard was lining up the shot, got the puck, Cooke turned towards him. Savard shot the puck, Cooke was coming over to Savard. Puck was gone Cooke was still gliding, puck hit the boards, Cooke’s arm hit Savard’s head. Isn’t there a penalty for hitting players that don’t have the puck?

    Maybe the “finnish your check” mantra has to be amenden into “finnish your check on time, when the target still has the puck”

  20. jtbourne says:

    Reasonably late hits serve a purpose (working on the yellow light right light idea) – the point is that playing teams that finish all their checks sucks. Guys start to think about it and get rid of the puck quicker so they can brace themselves, they panic with the puck, they “hear footsteps” and make bad decisions. If you finish all your checks (yes, even after a guy gets rid of the puck), there’s a marked difference in the way your opponent plays/carries themselves in the third period when it matters.

  21. minnesotagirl71 says:

    Thanks for the explanation, JB! I knew there was a valid reason and now that you explain it that way I realize that I see that panic in the opposing team when Clutterbuck is on the ice. It’s like guys have their head on a swivel trying to see if Clutterbuck is coming for them. I know other teams and their fans hate him, but he hits clean and brings so much energy to the game.

    The league must “un-fuck” itself on this issue. There is too much talent hanging out in the press box due to concussions! Pierre Marc Bouchard has missed the entire season and isn’t even skating yet. Brent Burns missed the end of last season and was out from mid-November to right before the Olympic break this season. Burns was at the Team Canada camp last summer – may have missed his Olympic opportunity because of post concussion symptoms.

    BTW – @fish – I wasn’t trying to make a point. I was seriously just asking the question.

  22. hockeygirl says:

    Off topic for just a second, but Justin, did you see the nice words that Doyle Woody wrote about your awesome blog on adn?

    Very cool! :o )


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