MONTREAL - Montreal police are asking hockey-mad Canadiens fans to stop calling them to file complaints against Zdeno Chara.
Police say they have been inundated with calls from people seeking to file a criminal complaint against the Boston Bruins defenceman.
The calls demanding criminal charges began Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the NHL announced it would neither suspend nor fine Chara for a brutal hit on the Habs' Max Pacioretty.
While the league closed the books on the incident, and even Montreal Canadiens players remained tight-lipped, many of the team's livid fans demanded action.
Police say their emergency call centre started getting flooded around 4 p.m.—after the NHL announced its decision.
A spokesman said police suspected the calls were inspired by a local media outlet that suggested the idea.
The police spokesman described the gesture as "irresponsible"—and he urged Montrealers to keep the emergency line free for actual life-and-death matters.
"Someone in the media has been telling people to call the police to complain," said Sgt. Ian Lafreniere of the Montreal police.
"This shows a serious lack of responsibility."
He would not speculate, however, when asked whether police might actually investigate the incident which left Pacioretty with a severe concussion and a cracked vertebra.
He said public complaints, which are confidential, are not actually required to trigger a police investigation.
But advancing an assault case without a complaint from the actual victim is highly unlikely—and, in this case, people associated with the Habs showed little inclination Wednesday to make a public issue of the incident.
Lafreniere would not say how many calls police had received.
The issue not only tied up police lines but also landed in the political arena Wednesday: in the House of Commons, the federal minister responsible for sport called on the NHL to act.
Politicians of different stripes expressed outrage. Some even suggested there might be a role for the federal government to help limit violence in hockey. Sports Minister Gary Lunn, meanwhile, urged the NHL to wake up.
"When you see the (Chara) hit, you just cringe," Lunn said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
"I think it's time to put that message out there that it's unacceptable. I'm not suggesting that the federal government actually wants to get involved but the NHL needs to."
In Quebec, hockey-related violence also has a recent history of landing in another arena: the legal one.
The province has had three criminal cases involving Quebec Major Junior Hockey League players in the last few years. The province has also introduced tougher rules aimed at curbing hockey violence.
Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions said Wednesday it had no immediate plans to do anything with the current case.
"The director has the power to ask for an investigation if they consider it a case worth pursuing," said Crown spokeswoman Martine Berube in Quebec City.
"For now we haven't made that request yet."
Later Wednesday, another official with the department clarified that the DCPP would take a few days to monitor the case before making a final decision.
A spokeswoman told Rue Frontenac—a newspaper founded by former locked-out workers of the Journal de Montreal—that the agency would decide within a few days whether to recommend a police investigation.
Since 2008, three cases have ended up before the Quebec court. Not all were triggered by actual complaints to police. None ended with jail time or criminal records for the offending players.
Atlanta Thrashers prospect Patrice Cormier was given an absolute discharge after pleading guilty to an assault charge last October. The discharge allowed him to continue with his career by avoiding a criminal record and travel restrictions to the U.S.
Cormier was playing for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League on Jan. 17, 2010, when he elbowed Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts in the head.
Jonathan Roy, son of legendary netminder Patrick Roy, pleaded guilty to pummelling a fellow goaltender who was reluctant to fight during a brawl-filled contest in 2008. He received an absolute discharge.
A third case, before youth court, resulted in an assault conviction in connection with an on-ice incident.