Jiri Fischer says he didn’t see the bone-rattling bodycheck that Canadian forward Zack Kassian levelled on Czech forward Petr Senkerik.
What the former NHL defenceman did see was the aftermath - Senkerik lying motionless on the ice as team trainers came running to his aid. That image left Fischer shaken.
“It was certainly a very, very powerful emotional moment for everybody in the building,” said Fischer, an assistant coach with the Czech junior team. ”I was just really hoping that Petr was OK because he wasn’t moving on the ice.
“It silenced the building for several minutes.”
Additional gravitas knowing that Fischer’s own NHL career was cut short after an undiagnosed heart ailment caused him to collapse during a game with the Detroit Red Wings in 2005.
Senkerik’s best friend on the team, Moose Jaw Warriors forward Antonin Honejsek, was equally concerned. They had played together every since they were 15 with Czech club team HC Zlin, before the now 19-year-old Honejsek left to play in the Canadian Hockey League.
“I was really nervous,” Honejsek said after his team’s 7-2 loss to Canada on Tuesday night at the World Junior Hockey Championship. “He was from my team in the Czech league so he was my good friend. I was so nervous.”
After being attended to, Senkerik looked to be talking and was placed on a backboard before being taken off the ice on a stretcher. He received a big cheer from the pro-Canadian crowd and Kassian was given a five-minute penalty and a match penalty, though neither official – Finland’s Anti Bowman or Germany’s Georg Jablukov – initially signalled the call, sending Canadian head coach Dave Cameron into a frenzy from the bench.
At the time of the hit, the game was tight on the scoreboard wtih Canada holding a 2-1 lead. Senkerik had his head down and was skating through the neutral zone towards Canada’s end with the puck when Kassian caught the six-foot, 180-pound forward with a shoulder that looked to hit him in the chest and jaw at the 14:14 mark of the second period.
“It happened really fast,” said the 6-3, 225-pound Kassian. “He seemed to dump the puck in and I was just finishing my check.
“I was obviously brought here to be physical and play disciplined and I thought I’d been doing that so far. My hands are bound.
“I’m just hoping that he’s alright.”
The Czech team was noticeably rattled after the hit. Fischer told Czech reporters that Senkerik would not have to go to the hospital after the game though his status would only be known after he had been fully evaluated by doctors. Honejsek said he was relieved to talk to his friend in the dressing room during the second intermission.
“He told me he was OK,” said Honejsek.
The International Ice Hockey Federation has a head-checking rule in place that leaves any match penalty to the sole discretion of the referee. A match penalty comes with an automatic one-game suspension and review, meaning that Kassian will miss Canada’s game against Norway on Wednesday night. Former NHL referee Dan Marouelli reviewed the hit before the game had even ended and will mete out any additional punishment to Kassian after collecting further information from the officials after the game. A ruling is expected to come within the next 24 hours.
When asked what he thought of the hit, Cameron was terse, twice reiterating the following refrain: “It doesn’t matter what I think,” he said. “It’s out of my hands.”
That message was repeated by the rest of the team, even the few that actually admitted to seeing Kassian lower the boom.
“Yeah, I saw it,” said Canadian defenceman Erik Gudbranson. “It’s a hockey hit, but it’s not up to us to decide. It’s up to the IIHF now and stuff like that happens.”
Marouelli also works as the officiating manager for the Ontario Hockey League, where Kassian – who plays with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires – has been a repeat offender. Last season he was suspended 20 games for knocking out Barrie Colts forward Matt Kennedy with another open-ice hit that left his victim concussed and requiring stitches. The Buffalo Sabres prospect said he’s hoping his past doesn’t play a part at the tournament.
“It’s out of my hands from here,” said the LaSalle, Ont., native, who refused to compare Tuesday’s hit to the one on Kennedy. “Obviously they’re going to make their own decision, hopefully it’s just that one game.”
Kassian, known for his size and physical play, has one goal and one assist in two tournament games. Prior to the tournament Cameron had noted that the big winger and his linemates would have to tread carefully between being physical and taking penalties for crossing the line.
“I was just being physical,” said Kassian of the play. “My hands were down. You never want to see anyone get hurt and when you see the stretcher come out it’s not the best feeling in the world, but I was brought here to be physical and play that fine line without being undisciplined. I just hope everything works out.”
Sunaya Sapurji is the Junior Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org