Wilson's Charge, How Much Responsibility Belongs to Schenn? >

by Michael DeNicola

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 --

It was a strategic game of chess between the Washington Capitals and our Philadelphia Flyers in the beginnings of last night's matchup. Possession was pretty equal, and both squads had seemed to share a common conservative approach to their respective attacks. 

Deep into the second frame, the score had been tied with deuces on the board for each bench. As the puck made its way into our corner boards, Flyers forward Brayden Schenn backchecked on a play where Grossmann took a Caps body off the rubber. Once possession was gained, Schenn looked for the outlet pass. Instead, his vision was immediately cutdown by a barreling 19-year old Tom Wilson who never quit striding to make his hit.

Then this happened....

A blood-curdling, bone-crunching, demolishing hit that sent Schenn awkwardly into the boards headfirst. Dazed and seemingly punch-drunk, Brayden was incapable of standing on his skates long enough to get off the ice. And who the hell can blame him?

Aside from the eruption from the crowd and the inevitable flurry of fists from rest of the Flyers players, a controversy was birthed from the loins of a horrific womb, one which the League has been desperately trying to rid from the game of hockey. 

Enough of the theatrics; the hit was a dirty one. A despicable act by a young, dumb forward trying to make a name for himself in the Big League. 

Tom Wilson, age 19, stands at 6'4" 205-pounds and has exactly thirty-four NHL games under his belt. He averages a hair over 7:00 of ice-time per 60-minutes, and, within this small margin, he has successfully managed to tally 78 fucking minutes of penalties; to give you perspective, that's 33% from his career's TOI being spent in the penalty box. 

Needless to say, he tacked on another 5-minutes with a major penalty, and a game misconduct on that charging/boarding call. Wilson left the rink with another notch on his belt. Meanwhile, Brayden left the rink to sit in a quiet room and never returned to his team's bench. And who knows when he'll return?

Flyers head coach, Craig Berube, told the media that "he'll be all right" in a post-game interview. But judging from that video, I'm not sure I share Chief's optimism. 

Okay, so, let's breakdown the film and toss a few open thoughts out there...

For starters, there's no question Wilson is plainly guilty of Charging. This infraction is defined by the NHL's Rulebook under Rule 42.1 as so; Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.

The key phrase there is "any manner", make note of that. 

Secondly, Tom Wilson is plainly guilty of Boarding. This infraction is defined by the NHL's Rulebook under Rule 41.1 as so; A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently in the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee. 

There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the Referees. The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize the contact. However, in determining wheter such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered. This balance must be considered by the Referees when applying this rule.

The key phrase there is "The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize the contact," please make note of that as well.

What the video clearly shows is Wilson taking strides all the way up until contact is applied. That cannot be argued, nor can it be ignored. Within seconds, Schenn had gone from playing the puck to possibly suffering a serious injury from an unnecessary hit which could have been avoided or minimized.

I get it, hockey is an emotional sport, and when you're a 19-year old kid who's been awarded a chance to play on hockey's greatest stage.... you sort of want to make heads turn. Or, in Wilson's case, you want to make heads virtually explode like tangerines against wood.

What I also understand, from a fan's perspective, is that we're outraged by the hit. In real-time, it looked like Wilson had intent to injure Brayden Schenn with a check that aimed to jettison Schenn into the boards. And perhaps that's precisely the case, however I cannot help but assign a small fraction of the onus on Schenn.

Try to keep an open mind here.

Rewind the video; between seconds 2 and 3, Schenn had lifted his head up to see which of his teammates were open for the outlet pass. When he sees Wilson coming, Schenn turns his own back to the hit. Brayden had actually put himself in a vulnerable position, and an unwisely one to absorb the hit.

I know, that's easy for me to say. I wasn't the one staring down the barrel at some 205-pound rocket of rage. Am I implying that Schenn knowingly turned his back to draw a penalty? Absolutely not. In this instance, turning your back isn't a hockey play. It's a natural "holy fucking hounds of hell, I better turn my back so I don't get killed" reaction. It's instinct, sure, but it was Schenn who formatted the path of his head's ultimate trajectory. 

The League, the Players' Union and fans are all up in arms over dirty plays and dirty players. We've never been more aware of the "epidemic" than we are in the current NHL era. But in instances like these, even though none of the onus should be taken away from the aggressor, there's room to question if the sufferer had anything to do with his own injury.

Once more (only because I feel the need to explain myself to the hotheaded reader), in this case, I am not saying Wilson doesn't lose any of the blame for his charge on Schenn. After all, Schenn couldn't control the strides Wilson took towards the impact. What am I doing is broadening the incident to strengthen a League-wide theory; injured players sometimes don't do anything prior to their injury to help themselves. 

For example, since we all love to hate the Penguins, take a look at Pittsburgh defenseman, Robert Bortuzzo's open-ice crunch on Toronto's Jerry D'Amigo this past Monday evening....

D'Amigo, a skater smaller in stature than the towering Bortuzzo, got caught looking at the puck rather than anticipating a contesting opponent. This is Hockey 101, people. It's not hard to understand; keep... your head... up. 

Now, I'm not comparing the Wilson-Schenn incident last night to the Bortuzzo-D'Amigo hit. They were completely different. However, I am drawing a parallel between Schenn's decision to turn his own back to Wilson and D'Amigo's dumb decision to admire his chip-shot along the boards. Both players understand they're in an enclosure filled with a few big dudes who wanna light them up like a cigarette after sex. With that, ya gotta have your head on a swivel, and natural instinct and hockey instinct must play a part in keeping YOURSELF safe out there.

As for Tom Wilson -- there's no word yet on whether he'll be receiving supplementary discipline from Lead Disciplinarian, Brendan Shanahan. My guess is that he could receive 0 - 2 games, or possibly a fine. That guess is completely based off of the Disciplinary Board's history of making head-scratching, inconsistent decisions. So, I'm just playing along.

As for Brayden Schenn -- there's no word yet on his status, but I'm prepared for bad news. To be honest, I'm just hoping he's alright. Whether he's healthy soon or not to play is a distant second thought.

**UPDATE (1:40PM EST)**

And now for some of the most ridiculous views of last night's controversy....

"It was a great hit. I don't expect anything," said Caps GM, George McPhee.

"I thought it was a clean hit, I really do. I watched it live, I saw it on the Jumbotron, I watched it again between periods. He had changed, he went across the ice, he slowed down, saw Schenn come out of the pile with the puck, took two quick strides. Schenn saw him at the last second and he hit him in the arm. He’s a big, strong guy. He hit him hard, yeah, to me it’s a clean hit. I don’t think it’s a penalty at all." ~ Adam Oates, Caps head coach.

"To be honest with you, I don’t think it was a dirty play. He saw him coming. He turned and Willy’s a big boy. It’s always dangerous play out there, but it’s hockey. When you get a hit, you have to be ready, especially today. I don’t think [Schenn] was ready. Willy finished his check and I don’t think it was two minutes. It was a good hit. ~ Alex Ovechkin

Yea, there's no bias laced into those opinions whatsoever, right? I'm sure Caps fans have an ability to think objectively....

I'm not saying Flyers fans wouldn't react any different had the tables been turned. We're all cavemen in the end anyways.

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