Stevens's hit criticized, but legal
By GRANT KERR
From Monday's Globe and Mail
Monday, June 9, 2003
Anaheim Extra protection in his helmet and his trusty mouth guard probably saved Paul Kariya from a serious head injury Saturday night, as the Anaheim Mighty Ducks captain was knocked for a loop in the second period by Scott Stevens of the New Jersey Devils.
During the years, Stevens has taken out several players in the National Hockey League playoffs by using his shoulder and elbow to deliver crushing hits to the heads of unsuspecting opponents, almost always without penalty.
First, it was Slava Kozlov of the Detroit Red Wings; then, Eric Lindros of the Philadelphia Flyers; and last year, Shane Willis and Ron Francis of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Stevens was not penalized for his blind-side hit on Kariya in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final, which came after the Anaheim forward had passed the puck to a teammate.
Kariya was sent crashing to the ice, hit the back of his helmeted head on the frozen surface and lay motionless for several moments before Ducks trainer Chris Phillips reached him.
Kariya left the ice on wobbly legs and went to the dressing room for an examination. But he returned later in the period to score his first goal of the series, giving the Ducks an emotional lift during a 5-2 win that extended the final to a seventh and deciding game tonight in New Jersey.
"I sensed that [Stevens] was there, but I thought I had a little bit more time than that," Kariya said after. "He's very patient with his hits and he times them right.
"But I thought it was a little bit late."
Upon further review, so did Anaheim head coach Mike Babcock.
"I didn't think there was going to be any contact at all because you're supposed to have the puck," he said.
Stevens, who has been singled out in the past for hitting players who have their heads down, defended his actions saying: "You can't let your guard down. Hey, it's a physical game out there."
Replays showed Kariya looking the other way after intercepting a clearing attempt at centre and making a pass before being hit by the shoulder and elbow of Stevens.
Referees Dan Marouelli and Brad Watson did not issue a penalty to Stevens, but appeared to have a makeup call in mind moments later, when Jamie Langenbrunner of the Devils was penalized for a marginal hook on Stanislav Chistov.
League officials defended the decision of the referees and by the end of the period had issued a press release from NHL vice-president and director of hockey operations, Colin Campbell.
"There were two factors I looked at in reviewing the hit," Campbell's statement read. "One, the hit was a legal hockey hit as Stevens struck Kariya with his shoulder.
"Two, in reviewing the hit frame by frame, it was clear the hit occurred less than one second after Kariya made the pass."
The fact Kariya returned to the game (to a standing ovation from the Arrowhead Pond crowd) and scored a goal was even more remarkable than the league's response.
"Obviously, I was raring to get out there and play again," he said. "The doctors cleared me to go and I was back on the ice. It was a nice ovation from the crowd. I didn't expect anything, but it was a nice lift."
Kariya, 28, missed the 1998 Nagano Olympics because of a concussion suffered after a vicious cross-check from Gary Suter, who was suspended by the league for four games for his act.
Upon Kariya's return, special padding was added to his helmet and he began wearing a specially-designed mouth guard in an attempt to prevent further concussions.
The NHL has long wanted to reduce the number of concussions suffered by its players, but there are still many hits to the head that are not penalized, especially in the playoffs.
"Paul has inspired every single guy on this hockey team," Ducks forward Steve Thomas said. "He's the kind of guy who would go out there on one leg and play."
teammate Rob Niedermayer added: "He's a little guy, but he's a captain. Paul showed he's the man who can lead us to the promised land."
With special thanks to a mouth guard and improved head protection.