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Rome Suspension for Horton Hit: Too Much?

Nathan Horton lies prone on the ice following a hit by Vancouver's Aaron Rome. Nathan Horton lies prone on the ice following a hit by Vancouver's Aaron Rome.

In Monday night’s Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup finals between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks, defenseman Aaron Rome laid a hit on Nathan Horton that left the Bruins’ forward unconscious on the ice. The hit was late, which warranted a penalty. Tuesday the judgment came down from the league that Rome would be suspended for four games, meaning he’s out for the duration of the playoffs. It’s an unprecedented ruling for that kind of hit. Is the NHL cracking down, or just inconsistent?

The NHL has a bad habit of punishing an action based on the resulting injury, rather than based on the action itself.

The timing of the hit was bad. It was late, and Horton didn’t have the puck. However, the hit itself, minus the lateness, wasn’t really terrible. It’s a “north-south” shoulder check. The result, of course, was devastating. And nobody wants to see a hockey player hurt.

That said, if it had happened 15 years ago, I don’t think the hit would have even been a penalty, much less a suspension. As of a few years ago, it’s a penalty, but probably not a suspension.

Check out this video of Scott Stevens laying a similar, but more dastardly hit on Paul Kariya in 2003. Stevens is coming across the rink, and blindsides Kariya. Not exactly "north-south." There was no suspension.


Now it's 2011, and the league is trying to crack down on dangerous hits. Which is good. But the NHL finals is a tough time to start setting a new precedent. On the other hand, maybe it’s fair if you look at it like this: Horton is gone for the series, so is Rome.

The NHL has a bad habit of punishing an action based on the resulting injury, rather than based on the action itself. If Horton had popped back up from Rome’s hit in Game 3, there would be no suspension. Meanwhile, much worse hits are not punished if guys can withstand their impact. For example, there was no suspension for this hit from behind, on Aaron Rome, just a few weeks ago in the Western Conference finals.


The NHL needs to get consistent in the message it’s sending. Hockey players can’t be left to guess what’s allowed when they hit the ice.

Of the two lost players, the Bruins are hit the hardest. Horton was a top-six forward, and even though Boston had no trouble scoring in his absence, racking up eight goals in two periods, he will be greatly missed for the duration of the series.

As for Rome, he has been a strong player for the Canucks, and with top defenseman Dan Hamhuis still out with an injury he sustained in Game 1 of the finals, the Vancouver blueline corps will feel the effects of these missing players. However, Keith Ballard has proven his ability to step in and play big minutes this year, and the Canucks will likely dress him for Game 4.

The entire hockey world is wishing Nathan Horton well. Being injured is bad enough, but missing your team’s run in the Stanley Cup finals is also terrible - something Aaron Rome will find out thanks to a newly extra punitive NHL. But no matter what has already happened, with the Vancouver Canucks up 2-1 heading into Game 4 in Boston, both sides will have to put the hardships of the last game behind them and focus on the task at hand – winning the toughest trophy in sports.

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As the NHL evolves, this type of hit is dealt with increasinly harshly.
Last modified on Wednesday, 22 August 2012 17:26

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