Welcome to the big-time, Kurt Sauer.
The largely anonymous Phoenix Coyotes defenseman is public enemy No. 1 in Montreal after this past weekend, courtesy his knock-out hit on young left winger Andrei Kostitsyn Saturday night.
What’s kind of unfortunate about the situation is the fact Sauer is one of those unsung heroes who, for most of his career, simply went out and played solid, defensively-sound hockey.
Through nearly 300 NHL games with Anaheim, Colorado and now Phoenix, the Minnesota native has tallied just 28 points, but his size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and reach was always an asset. His breakout campaign with the Avs last year saw him garner the second-best plus-minus on the team at plus-17 (Paul Stastny was a plus-22).
Even more remarkably, Sauer achieved that rating in just 54 games, as he was felled by a concussion for 28 matches mid-season.
This season, through the early going, Sauer is once again near the top of his team’s plus-minus race and is one of only three Coyotes with a plus rating. (His plus-1 is tied with enforcer Todd Fedoruk and trailing Steven Reinprecht’s plus-3).
But, of course, his legacy through this season will likely be his dashing of Kostitsyn along the boards.
Naturally, the famously frothing press of Montreal is up in arms over the hit (no pun intended), but a quick look on YouTube, glorious YouTube, proves several physical facts surrounding the hit.
First, it is nearly impossible to substantiate whether Sauer left his feet or not; like any good bodychecker, the Dogs defenseman is pushing up as he makes contact with Kostitsyn and if both skates left the ice at the same time, it was clearly a result of physics, not malice. When Habs coach Guy Carbonneau claimed Sauer left his feet, it implied he was flying into Kostitsyn, which is patently untrue. After all, Sauer is four inches taller than Kostitsyn; how would jumping help at all?
Second, there is no clear intent on Sauer’s part to deliver an elbow to the head (a.k.a., the odious “head shot”). Any contact between Sauer’s arms and Kostitsyn’s head came from the awkward nature of the Canadiens’ fall.
Now don’t get me wrong; any time Kostitsyn misses because of this hit is a loss for all hockey fans who like to see dynamic play, but what was Sauer to do in the situation? Kostitsyn is a rather quick fellow, so an attempt to lead with the shoulder or hip would have come up empty.
If the NHL wants to rule a bodycheck must not be led by a player’s arms, then it has the right to do so, but based on current standards, this was a clean check.
I’ve watched this clip like it was the Zapruder film and it was just a good NHL play. I don’t like players getting hurt, but it happens. Sorry, Habs fans.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect-watch feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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