Imagine If They Had "Skill"
For a national junior team that isn't supposed to have a lot of skill, this year's Team Canada isn't having much trouble putting pucks in the net.
Try 13 in two games, much of it with a lethal power play. These weren't weaklings the Canadians were playing, but rather the Russians and the Czechs, both overwhelmed as Canada enjoys home-ice advantage on small ice for a third straight winter in what is purported to be a "world" tournament.
Brayden Schenn, a pro among boys, looks lethal, and one by one the Canadians are finding their roles, figuring where they fit in.
Then there's Zack Kassian.
There was always a risk putting Kassian on the team, always the chance that at some point he would disengage from the team concept and do something selfish and violent that would put his team at a disadvantage.
That happened Tuesday night in Buffalo when Kassian delivered a vicious blind-side hit to the head of Petr Senkerik of the Czech Republic, who was, it appeared, knocked cold, and then taken from the ice on a stretcher.
Some saw it as a shoulder to Senkerik's chest. Careful examination of the replays, however, showed that the cup of Kassian's left shoulder pad clearly made the initial impact with Senkerik's jaw, causing his head to snap back violently in a way it wouldn't if the initial impact was to the chest. It was a hit delivered from a lateral path, a classic violation of the NHL's new head shot rule.
But this isn't the NHL. So who knows what will happen?
Kassian will be suspended for at least Wednesday's game against Norway, that we know. If it were the NHL, it would be at least a three-game suspension. But what does that mean in an IIHF tournament?
Kassian is a repeat offender. He got 20-games for a truly dangerous hit of a similar fashion in the OHL last season.
So we'll see. To me, it's the kind of play that should see a player, any player, booted out of the tournament entirely, but I understand most hockey fans prefer lesser penalties, particularly when their team or their country is involved.
In a way, it's too bad for Kassian, who has cut back on his reckless play in the Ontario league this season. He's a big guy with good skill and a chance to be a significant NHL player.
But if you're Canadian coach Dave Cameron, how do you know when this young man is going to make that kind of decision again? What if it's in a semifinal or a final, a one-game do-or-die scenario?
Kassian will almost certainly be back in this tournament. But even though the five-minute major he took for the Senkerik hit didn't hurt Canada - the Canadians actually scored shorthanded - he's clearly one of those players who is capable of doing something in the heat of the moment that could do severe damage to his team.
You can debate whether it was a head shot if you want. But nobody can debate that it was totally unnecessary.