Can we talk about the Dennis Wideman hit? And by that, I mean the one he gave and the one he took. I can’t be the only one who felt complete unease at the way he dealt veteran linesman Don Henderson that huge check, then sat down on the bench like it was the end of any old regular shift. Dude was on another planet.
I gasped out loud when I watched it live. Did that really happen? I gawped at replay after replay, attempting (unsuccessfully) to gauge some kind of reaction from Wideman’s blank stare on the bench. Did Wideman actually just fucking crosscheck the linesman? “Maybe he didn’t see him…” someone said, unconfidently. The announcers discussed their own theory: that he was dazed by the hit from Salomäki and simply threw out his hands to protect himself—having looked up from the ice too late to avoid a collision. But with each replay, the raising of the stick became more and more unmistakable, and harder and harder to watch.
I have qualms about definitively stating that it was intentional (or not). While his actions looked very deliberate, I’m not sure he was in the right state of mind (whether the argument is that he didn’t see Henderson at all, mistook him for a Predator, had a momentary lapse of sanity, or was straight up tripping balls). However, I also doubt anybody wants to believe that he would do such a vicious thing in cold blood. Perhaps the gravity of that unfavourable alternative clouds our judgment.
It was during work hours and a client consultation that my phone, my coworker’s phone, and the client’s phone simultaneously received The Score‘s notification that Wideman had been suspended indefinitely—unsurprisingly. What really should have happened way before that, though, was the following of proper concussion protocol for both Wideman and Henderson immediately after the hit(s)—removal from the game until closer examination and clearance by a medical professional. Instead, Wideman remained on the bench for the remainder of the game, and Henderson continued officiating (then, according to Sportsnet’s Eric Francis, was in the hospital until 5:00AM dealing with neck pain and nausea).
I want to be Switzerland…but the hit was brutal—unnecessarily so—and Henderson was a completely vulnerable target with his back turned. It was a cheap shot, and that fact doesn’t change even if Wideman thought he was hitting a Predator. I can still see Henderson, an unmoving form on the ice, as the entire Nashville bench leapt to their feet. Scotiabank Saddledome was thick with tension, as the cameras cut from the prone Henderson to Wideman’s poker face, and back. So while I don’t feel able to give Wideman the complete benefit of the doubt, I’m also undecided on the extent to which he should be punished without knowing the whole truth. Behind that blank stare may have been a conscious act of violence (though one would hope not), a poor reaction from a temporary hit-induced lapse in judgment (possible), or a fully unintentional mistake (no comment). And, we might never know what really transpired, even when the league delivers their decision at Wideman’s hearing on Tuesday.
Another interesting update is a report from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, who states that Wideman’s case doesn’t fall under Rule 40 in the NHL’s official rulebook. Under Rule 40, he would have received an automatic 10- or 20-game minimum suspension for either “deliberately [applying] physical force to an official in any manner…without intent to injure,” or “deliberately [applying] physical force in any manner against an official with intent to injure.” Whether they would have sentenced him based on Category I or II, respectively, remains to be seen. However, because no game misconduct was issued (the referees were focused on the play and missed the hit), Wideman’s case doesn’t fall under these rules. Therefore, Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell can hand out whatever punishment he deems fit. It doesn’t seem likely that the disciplinary panel will stray too much from these guidelines however—seeing as they don’t have much reason to, aside from minor technicalities—but we’ll see for sure soon. The only thing I’m sure about is that anything less than 10 games will cause some commotion. And, whatever happens, I hope this situation serves as a reminder to respect the game (and its officiators).
Photo Credit: Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP.