The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the defending Stanley Cup champion, Tampa Bay Lightning in dramatic fashion. However, the 2-1 overtime victory was overshadowed by a dangerous hit. Referees Kelly Sutherland and Michael Markovic were put to the test as these two Atlantic Division rivals renewed acquaintances. Only six minor penalties were assessed, but many thought one call could’ve been more severe.
*Since this story was first published, Mikhail Sergachev has been suspended for two games, due to a check to the head. This story examines Rule 48 and if further action should’ve been taken during the game.
In the first period, the Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner burst past Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman. Clearly beat on the play, Hedman hooked Marner and went for a ride, seconds later the Lightning’s other big defencemen, Mikhail Sergachev hit the Leafs’ forward. It appeared Sergachev’s shoulder or elbow connected with Marner’s face causing his head to snap back. Luckily Marner was okay and remained in the game.
Rule 48: Illegal Check to the Head
Sergachev was called for an illegal check to the head, Rule 48. This has been one of the more controversial rules since its inception in 2010. You may think any hit to a player’s head should constitute a penalty, if not more. But there are legal checks to the head. Rule 48 details that the player’s main point of contact is the head, and if that contact was avoidable.
A debate raged on social media and in comment sections about the hit. Some pointed out that Sergachev is five inches taller, that long would cause an issue with the contact. Other’s believed that Marner embellished the hit, while some wanted Sergachev ejected. Rule 48 does include a provision to assess a match penalty and remove the player if the referee rules that the guilty player was trying to deliberately injury. Marner, while slow to get up, did return to his feet and appeared ok. This may have been a factor in the officials only giving Sergachev a two-minute minor penalty.
Tavares Wants a Suspension
That’s not the point according to John Tavares who was the closest Maple Leaf to the play. He immediately charged Sergachev and a melee ensued. “I didn’t like it at all. I thought Mitchy was pretty exposed, no chance to really protect himself or see it coming. So, I didn’t like it at all. Hit him right in the head.”
Sheldon Keefe, who was critical of the officials earlier this season, picked his words more wisely, “I watched it a couple of times quickly on the bench. Any time you are coming from the blindside, that is a tough one. I thought the refs made a call on it. I am sure the league is going to look at it. That’s about all I have for you on that.”
Again there are legal hits to the head, the rule includes this phrase: Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach. William Nylander, who scored the overtime winner, said, “yeah, that was a crazy play. I don’t know why he did that… I don’t know why he came across like that, the play was already basically over.”
Sergachev Apologized to Marner
Marner, who did not look at the video before speaking to the media downplayed the event. “He came across, kinda hit me up high a little bit. He apologized later in the second period.” If there should have been a match penalty or a suspension, “It’s something you don’t want happening in games, happening to players but it does happen still. Hopefully, it gets out of the game but it’s a fast-paced game out there, stuff happens quickly,” said Marner.
The Department of Player Safety reviews every game. The department has the power to assess suspensions and fines resulting from any action, penalty or not. Sergachev is not known as a dirty player, or a head hunter, however, mistakes happen, as Marner said stuff happens fast. The refs made an assessment in real-time, given the League’s two-game suspension the day after, a match penalty should’ve been called, not just a two-minute minor.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.