My initial reaction to Justin Abdelkader’s hit on Anaheim Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman was probably the same as yours; “AWESOME ABS! GO GET ‘EM!” and then “PSH! Typical cheap-ass Ducks, running Abs for a clean hit!” annnnnnd then “WHAT?! FOR THAT?!?!?! SHOULDER TO SHOULDER! OVER-REACTING TO BIG HITS IS RUINING THE LEAGUE!!!!!!!!!! RRRRRRAHHHHH!!!!!!!!!”
At that time, the unabashed homer telecast of Fox Sports Detroit was –now, seemingly– refusing to show the left camera angle of the hit. From the point of view I was shown, this is what I saw:
While some pundits immediately reacted with a more level head than I and gave their guilty-verdict on Abdelkader’s crime and potential punishment, I dug in, refusing to believe that he made initial contact with Lydman’s head. Majority of those damning Abdelkader for the hit were only privy to the same camera angle as I. Watching a gif provided by SB Nation and tweeted out by Detroit News writer John Niyo, over and over again, my opinion was not swayed; it was shoulder-to-shoulder, Abs got his head on the follow through, the force of contact elevated his feet and he read and entered the play early. At one point, I think I had more excuses than Abdelkader had for himself.
Following the game, I watched Red Wings studio-analyst Darren Eliot try to hold a straight face as he defended a man who plays for a team that holds great influence over whether he’s employed or not. Eliot’s almost comical insincere reasoning to explain away the hit made me second guess my short-drawn conclusion.
Then Mickey York said, “Okay lets put away our Red Wings-colored glasses” and a new angle I had previously not seen was produced. Possibly they showed this angle of the replay during the game and I missed it, but I personally did not catch it until it was inconspicuously buried at the end of the post-game show.
The seemingly new camera angle came from the left end boards of the then Ducks zone. It proved to me without a doubt that Abdelkader committed a dirty head-shot, one that was definitely worthy of a suspension; he made initial contact with the head and he left his feet a step before contact. This screen-grab is indisputable to me.
You can clearly see his shoulder first meeting Lydman’s head and elevation of the right foot, then the follow through with the forearm. This is not a fair and legal way to hit a player. This is very dangerous. Because of Eric Lindross, Pat LaFontaine, Marc Savard, Chris Pronger and most importantly Sidney Crosby, these plays have to be taken out of the game and handled with levity and severity. Head-shots were never “old time hockey” but they’ve always been dangerous.
We as Red Wings fans have to take our medicine on this one. I know it’s a troubling thought that one of our beloved Winged-Wheel heroes –especially one who played for Michigan State and was born and raised in this great state– could dare do something unethical on the ice. We’re forever the good guys, forever the victims for what happened to Kozlov in ’95, Draper in ’96 and Zetterberg last season. In reality though, that’s all irrelevant. The bottom line is Justin Abdelkader did something stupid–something in the heat of the moment, consequences didn’t register. This is his game; he throws himself around the ice –leading the team in hits– targeting everything not in red and white. He was trying to make a big play, trying to wake his team out of the Ducks hypnotic defense. Abdelkader was just playing his game and he assumed the risk.
We love Justin for this style of play but at the speed of the NHL game, he’s constantly putting himself at risk of making first-contact with another players head thus facing suspension. We have to accept the consequences of celebrating a physical player, as do fans of the Los Angeles Kings (Dustin Brown), Montreal Canadiens (P.K. Subban), and St.Louis Blues (David Backes). In that same regard, we also have to think how you would feel if it were Lydman making the same exact hit on Abdelkader. You’d want Lydman suspended for the rest of the series. These rules protect ALL NHL players, INCLUDING RED WINGS. Please, keep perspective.
So lets pick ourselves up and stop crying conspiracy, stop crying about the “wussification” of the league and “old time hockey.” As much as I love the film “Slap Shot” this is the NHL, not Slap Shot. Eddie Shore is not walking through that door and if he were, I still don’t think Mr.Shore would appreciate a running shot to the head. How about we as Red Wings fans stop being babies and realize this is a team that looked flat before the incident and flatlined afterward. That this is a team that must face an unbalanced lineup for the next two games. That this is a team missing Danny DeKeyser with a broken thumb, who I believed would be the Wings key to advancing in this series.
The atmosphere at Joe Louis Arena has to be the most imposing it’s been in a very long time, tonight. This team is up against the wall and will likely need to win this game to keep any hopes alive for the series. Yes, it’s a major blow that Abdelkader is gone for two games, but the Wings will have to move on and we as fans should too.