March 15, 2011
Victor Henriquez doesn't want to block the doors of Bell Centre. He doesn't want to harass Montreal Canadiens players, or his fellow fans. What he wants is the chance for those angered, outraged or disenchanted after the Zdeno Chara(notes) hit on Max Pacioretty(notes) to make a statement -- and he's expecting over 2,000 people to add an exclamation point to that statement tonight.
Henriquez, a public relations consultant, and Jean-François Dubé have organized a fan protest before the Canadiens' home game against the Washington Capitals, beginning at 6 p.m. ahead of the 7 p.m. faceoff. He said police had agreed to shut down the street in front of the arena during the event, which was organized via Facebook.
"The violence that we all witnessed last Tuesday was simply the latest event in a long saga of head shots that have finished careers, changed lives and that may ultimately irreversibly tarnish our sport," wrote the organizers (translated from French by 'lawyergirl' of Four Habs Fans).
The protest was given a much higher profile today when Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau was asked about it during his post-practice media scrum, and dismissed the event as unnecessary and partisan (5:13 mark of this video).
If fans have a problem with violent hits in the game that are deemed hockey plays? "Don't come," Boudreau said, stifling a laugh.
"You don't like it, don't come to the games. I think the players realize that they can get hurt. But unless you've played and see what goes on at the speed of the game, you're not going to be able to argue with it," he said.
Henriquez said NHL personnel like Boudreau shouldn't dismiss the fans' voices.
"Mr. Boudreau has to remember who pays his salary. Guys like him are paid by fans. If fans want to protest, I don't think anybody should judge what fans want on the ice. It's unacceptable. But he has the right to have his opinion. We're in a free land," he said.
"Too often, people like Bruce Boudreau say it's part of the game and it's what fans like. I'm sorry, it's not part of the game and it's not what we want."
What do they want, then?
According to the Facebook page of the protest, the organizers have four main objectives in organizing. (Keep in mind this is translated from French.)
1) Ask NHL and Club de Hockey Canadiens authorities to defend our national sport by regulating hits in a way that will punish hits to the neck and head.
2) Ask the Club de Hockey Canadien to publicly state its intention to ask that the question of punishments and regulations be on the agenda of the next NHL Governors' meeting.
3) Invite fans of all of the other teams in the league to make a gesture for the good of our sport and sign a petition DEMANDING that the League institute new regulations and measures against violent hits on hockey rinks.
4) Demonstrate fan support with respect to all victims of these hits, such as Max Pacioretty who still does not know whether or not he will ever be able to play again.
On Monday, the NHL presented a 5-point plan to help increase player safety standards, from concussion diagnosis to looking at the rink itself to see if injuries such at those to Pacioretty could be avoided.
Henriquez was unimpressed. "That's nothing," he said.
"They have to go back to the basics. And the basics are that any hit to the head should be void of the NHL, even if it's voluntary or not. When you play hockey, you have to be responsible for your stick. You also have to be responsible for your hits, too."
The main objective in today's protest, he said, was to the NHL and its teams to focus on a ban for hits to the head. "We want the NHL to make a new rule and better sanctions against hits to the head," he said.
The protest will occur a few hours and over a thousand miles away from the NHL's GM meetings in Boca Raton, where they decided against recommending a ban on head shots this morning, opting instead for tighter enforcement of rules on charging and boarding as well as stricter suspensions.
Henriquez said if the NHL doesn't take an aggressive stand against checks to the head, there will come a time when everyone associated with the sport will regret it.
"If someday somebody gets killed on the ice, it's going to be everybody that has to pay the price," he said.