Zack Kassian

Rash of head shots earn heavy suspensions for three WJC players

The NHL hasn’t been able to curb the number of concussions its players have dealt with despite making some sincere rule changes from this season to last, but it seems like the sport’s biggest hockey league isn’t the only group struggling with hits to the head.

Brutal, controversial checks seem to be stealing the show in all the wrong ways during the 2011 World Junior Championships this week. For that reason, the International Ice Hockey Federation recently announced that the following three players would face hefty suspensions in addition to the automatic one-game banishments: Slovakian skaters Martin Marincin, Peter Hrasko and Canadian forward Zack Kassian.

Marincin (three extra games) and Hrasko (two extra) earned those suspensions during last night’s contest vs. the US team while Kassian received one extra game for a hit during Canada’s game against the Czech Republic on Tuesday.

Here are explanations for the suspensions via Dan Marouelli, the IIHF`s appointed Disciplinary Single Judge. First, let’s start with a snippet of what he said about Marincin:

In Marouelli’s opinion, this was a premeditated act as the puck had long left the vicinity of the play. Marincin took advantage of a defenceless and unsuspecting opponent and deliberately targeted the head and neck area, resulting in an injury to Zucker.

Now, here is why Marouelli decided to suspend Hrasko for two extra games.

Hrasko deliberately targeted the head of the American player, using his elbow and upper arm to deliver the blow and causing D’Amigo to be thrown violently into the boards. As a result, D’Amigo struck his head against the glass, sustaining an injury.

The additional suspension was a direct result of Hrasko’s targeting the head of his opponent on the play.

Finally, here is why Buffalo Sabres prospect Zack Kassian received one more game than the standard single game suspension.

Marouelli affirmed that the on-ice officials followed correct protocol by discussing the incident while Senkerik was being treated on ice by doctors. It was after this discussion that the referees decided to assess a five-minute major and match penalty.

Here’s hoping 3-on-3 doesn’t degenerate into a boring ‘game of keep-away’

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Are coaches going to ruin 3-on-3 overtime?

It’s been the one, big worry since the NHL decided to change from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3 as a way to reduce the number of shootouts.

Via TSN’s Bob McKenzie, here’s a quote from an anonymous coach (talking about 3-on-3 strategy) that won’t exactly quell that worry:

“Really, it’s a game of keep-away, that’s what it is and the longer you can keep it away from the other team, the more likely they’ll break down. So I say let’s slow it down and hold onto that puck for as long as we can.”

Now take that a step further and imagine there’s a team that’s really good at shootouts. If you were coaching that team, might you tell your players to rag the puck for as long as possible to try and get to the skills competition?

Granted, five minutes is a long time to rag the puck. Not sure any team could play “keep-away” that long. Plus, there will always be teams that aren’t very good at the shootout; theoretically, those teams should be more willing to take their chances in 3-on-3.

But just remember that more time and space doesn’t always lead to more goals. Look at international hockey, which is played on a bigger ice surface. Canada won gold in Sochi by beating Latvia, 2-1, the United States, 1-0, and Sweden, 3-0. It was hardly firewagon hockey.

While nobody’s quite ready to suggest that 3-on-3 will actually lead to more shootouts, it will be interesting to see how things evolve, and if there are any unintended consequences.

“I don’t know if anyone’s figured it out completely yet,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said Saturday after losing in 3-on-3 overtime to Vancouver.

“The big thing is, you want to control the puck as much as you can. It’s 3-on-3, so there’s lots of room and space out there. You don’t need to give it away. I think it’s smart to just wait, take your time, and wait for a good opportunity.”

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.