Here is the video, in case you haven't seen it. It's not a fun one to watch.
To their credit, both Denver head coach George Gwozdecky and Jesse Martin have been conciliatory, with Gwozdecky saying he didn't think it was Malone's intention to injure Martin like that, and Martin reaching out to Malone to help ease the mental anguish over the hit.
However, those guys aren't the arbiters of the rules, and watching that hit, I have a tough time coming to the conclusion that it's a legal hit.
First off is the issue of charging, which is the penalty actually called on the play. Charging, if you're curious is Rule 6 Section 6 Part A of the rulebook and says, " A player shall not skate more than two strides and jump
into or charge an opponent. Charging is the action of a player, who as a result of distance traveled, checks an opponent violently in any manner from the front or side." Malone seems fine on the first count, which is that I think most people think of, when they think of charging. The second part is harder to defend. Malone obviously has some pretty serious momentum, despite slowing down before the hit, and no one is going to doubt the violence of the collision.
Second, is the issue that Malone pretty clearly makes contact with Martin's head on the hit, and watching the video a number of times, it looks like he gets head first, rather than body and then head, which is actually legal under the rules. For all the work the NCAA did on trying to crack down on contact to the head, they made the rule worlds more unclear by saying a player shall not target and make contact with a player's head. Is Malone specifically targeting Martin's head? Probably not. But then if you check the clarifications on the rule, you see both of these:
"The committee reminds coaches and players that the responsibility remains with the player making the hit to avoid contact with the head and neck area of an opposing player."
"A player delivering a check to an unsuspecting and vulnerable player puts themselves in jeopardy of being penalized under this rule. Officials are to pay particular attention to these examples."
Malone seems pretty guilty on both of those counts.But then what does that all mean? In trying to strengthen this rule, the Rules Committee seemed to just throw a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what stuck, and ended up with something that is incredibly difficult to enforce.
All in all, I'm not going to declare Malone the worst person ever because I think he was honestly trying to throw a legal check, but the bottom line is that he definitely threw an illegal check which seriously injured another player. What type of suspension should that be worth? For those willing to search through internet archives, you could probably find all sorts of creative solutions from North Dakota fans, demanding pounds of flesh from Aaron Marvin last year, not the least of which was former Grand Forks Herald writer Virg Foss, who penned an editorial last year saying players that injure a player with an illegal check should be suspended until the injured player returns to the ice. I doubt the Herald will be reprinting that this week. There's no need to be excessive, but the suspension should definitely be significant.
That, of course, is the nuts and bolts legal side of things, which perhaps ignores the bigger, more emotional issue: We've got to get hits like these out of the game. We've reached the point of insanity and it's time to stop. The argument I keep hearing from people trying to take on the affectation of toughness is that you can't take it out because it would ruin the game. Okay. Is anybody having fun here? How much did the Denver players, some of whom were reportedly sobbing in the locker room after their win, care about the game after watching what happened? This post is coming on Wednesday afternoon instead of Monday morning like it probably should have because I hate writing about this stuff. Watching that video and trying to break down exactly what happened is just sickening.
I love the game as much as anybody, but when it comes down to it, it's still just a game, and at the center are real human beings. What is a game worth? Is it worth 50 years in a wheelchair? Is it worth a life? There's got be a point where you say enough is enough, and it's hard not to draw that line when you see the terrible toll of pain and anguish this has caused to all parties involved.
I understand that people say it's difficult to tell Malone to slow down there and not throw a big hit, since that's how he's been coached since he was a youngster. But if Martin's back had been turned on that play, I'm betting Malone would have found a way to slow down and not blow him up there. Because people in the game of hockey have done a tremendous job doing whatever it takes to teach players that when an opponent is in a vulnerable position, facing towards the boards, it's absolutely unacceptable to put a big hit on him because the consequences can be so severe. And despite that, the game of hockey is still great, and people still enjoy it. Why can't we undergo the same sort of transformation when a player is in a slightly different, yet still extremely vulnerable position like Martin was? I promise that whatever the game would lose doesn't come close to what it would gain by helping eliminate incidents like this.
I don't necessarily think that should factor into Malone's suspension, at least too much. It's not fair to make an example out of him, when he certainly hasn't been the only player to throw hits like this, just the unluckiest. But there should definitely be something serious enough to show players that hits like that won't be tolerated in the future.