Don’t blame Alex Ovechkin for the injury to Andrei Svechnikov, blame fighting in the NHL

J.J. Regan
NBC Sports Washington

Dont blame Alex Ovechkin for the injury to Andrei Svechnikov, blame fighting in the NHL originally appeared on nbcsportswashington.com

Monday's Game 3 in Raleigh had an ugly end for the Capitals, but the start was just as ugly for everyone watching. Early in the first period Alex Ovechkin and Andrei Svechnikov dropped the gloves and Ovechkin dropped Svechnikov soon after. Ovechkin connected with a punch and Svechnikov went down hard to the ice, hitting his head on the ice as he fell. He had to be helped to his knees and off the ice. He did not return to the game.

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Carolina head coach Rod Brind'Amour told the media on Tuesday that Svechnikov went to the hospital on Monday and is in the NHL's concussion protocol. He is not expected to play in Game 4.

You never want to see a player injured, especially a 19-year-old kid. It was tough to watch and an unfortunate result of the fight. But because it was such a cringe-worthy moment, Ovechkin has faced some criticism for participating in the fight in the first place. A lot of this has to do with Brind'Amour fanning the flames of what is essentially a non-controversy by disputing Ovechkin's account of what happened.

While Ovechkin said Svechnikov asked to fight, Brind'Amour said, "If you watch the video, because I've got to watch it, he slashes him twice, Ovi. Whack, whack. And then Svech gives him back. I don't know if there's words exchanged, but one guy's gloves comes off way first and that's Ovi's, it's not our guy's. It's a little bit frustrating because he got hurt and it's his first fight. He's played 90 games, he's never fought in his life and I'm pretty sure Ovi knew that."

Brind'Amour doubled down on Tuesday as he told the media, "There's two versions going around," seemingly calling into question Ovechkin's contention that Svechnikov asked for the fight.

It's fair to hate what happened to Svechnikov. It's fair to wish he never got hurt. But it's not fair to blame the incident on Ovechkin.

For those "hot takes" out there saying what Ovechkin did was assault, maybe the sport of hockey isn't for you. A lot of sports, in fact, may not be for you.

Yes, punching a person in real life is considered assault. So is body-checking. So is hitting a person with a wooden stick. So is a football tackle, a basketball charge, a pitcher beaning a batter, etc. As a society, we have decided that during a professional sports competition, we will accept a different standard of behavior. We do not get to pick and choose when that applies and when it doesn't.

Brind'Amour's account of what happened as he describes it just is not accurate.

Here's a replay of the fight and the events that preceded it.

Both players are engaged with one another before the fight. Who slashes whom, who shoves whom, is irrelevant. The notion that Brind'Amour doesn't know if words were exchanged means he either did not watch the video or did not pay attention to it. Clearly, they are talking with one another before they drop the gloves. 

As for what was said, all we know is what Ovechkin told us and that is that Svechnikov challenged him. If you decide you do not believe that, that's fine. I don't speak Russian and I'm not a lip reader. Having said that, you cannot watch the video and tell me that either player was unwilling or surprised when the fight started. They both knew what was coming and they both consented to it.

Yes, Ovechkin is listed at 235 pounds, Svechnikov at 195. Yes, Svechnikov is young, but he is an adult playing in the NHL. He is responsible for himself on the ice. He did not get jumped, he did not get sucker punched. He knew what he was getting into. At least, he thought he did. He got injured as a result and it was horrifying to watch, but you cannot blame Ovechkin for accepting the challenge.

So long as fighting is legal in the NHL, mismatches are going to happen. Knockouts are going to happen. If you don't like that, blame the fact that fights are still a part of the NHL, not Ovechkin.

I am not arguing whether fights should or should not be taken out of the game.

All I am saying is that if you cringed when you saw Svechnikov go down on Monday, that has more to do with the fight itself than the man throwing the punches.

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