Lightning’s Connolly injures Panthers prospect with controversial hit

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There’s plenty of buzz coming from Canada’s world junior selection camp after Tampa Bay rookie Brett Connolly took out Florda Panthers prospect Quinton Howden during an intra-squad scrimmage.

(Watch the hit here.)

Howden was crushed along the boards midway through the second period of Monday night’s game and struggled to leave the ice. He went to the dressing room and did not return — Hockey Canada later said Howden has an upper-body injury and will be re-evaluated today.

“It’s a tough play,” Connolly said. “I’m just trying to finish my check and he’s kind of in a vulnerable position. I mean, if I was to go back maybe I would have held up a little bit, but I’m just trying to be intense and finish my checks and obviously I feel bad now. Hopefully he’s not hurt too bad, but definitely could have held up a little bit.”

The hit has come under fire from pundits.

“I didn’t like the hit at all,” said TSN’s Ray Ferraro. “I thought it was a hit that didn’t belong in a scrimmage at all. In particular, a hit on an opponent that’s going to be a teammate of yours in a couple of days.”

Ferraro’s TSN cohort, Bob McKenzie, echoed those sentiments.

“I thought it was an unnecessary hit as well,” he said. “More importantly, it would be a hit that if you were in the World Junior Championship quite likely would’ve resulted in a five-minute major.”

Connolly was loaned to Canada’s junior team after posting 4G-4A-8pTS in 28 games with the Lightning this season. Howden, taken 25th overall by Florida at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, has 29 points in 20 games for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors.