Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson spoke to the media on Wednesday for the first time since he was handed a two-game suspension for slamming Vancouver Canucks Elias Pettersson to the ice over the weekend, leaving the rookie concussed and temporarily out of the lineup.
It was definitely an interesting couple of minutes as Matheson shared his version of what happened, as well as his feelings on the play, the outside perception of it, and the league’s decision.
“As a player you never go around trying to injure people,” Matheson said. “I know that’s not part of my game regardless of what happens on the play. Hopefully he’ll be back in the lineup soon. I’m definitely disappointed with the decision to suspend me for two games because I know deep down there was no frustration in me when that play happened, and there was no intent to injure. It was obviously an unfortunate event.”
Despite that disappointment, Matheson had a chance to reflect on the play after watching the replay and said he definitely understands the decision.
[Related: Panthers’ Matheson suspended two games]
“Having said that, after the game I’ve been able to watch the play numerous times, and I definitely understand what they saw and why they thought it was worth two games,” said Matheson. “The league is really focussing in on head injuries and protecting their players, which I am fully on board with and I support 100 percent.”
“I get it,” Matheson continued when asked a follow up about understanding why the league felt the need to suspend him.
“But at the same time it wasn’t my intent, it wasn’t at all what I meant to do. At any level I’ve never been a malicious player or someone that goes around trying to hurt players because I expect to receive the same respect in return, and that’s what hockey is about. So it’s two-fold. I can see it. I can see the point of view where people would say it was malicious and it was deserving of a suspension, but I know how I was feeling in the moment, and I know what I was thinking and it just wasn’t that and that’s what I’m disappointed about it.”
That is kind of refreshing take from a player in Matheson’s position.
He obviously doesn’t agree with the decision, or the outside of assessment of what happened or what his intent was. But his willingness to acknowledge that it looks bad, and that the result was bad, is something you don’t usually hear from a suspended player. Usually it’s defiance. Or blaming the player on the receiving end of the play. Or just a total disregarded for what happened.
That is not at all what happened here. And that is good.
As I wrote before the season following Max Domi‘s laughable preseason suspension, the whole point of the Department of Player Safety isn’t supposed to be to get a pound of flesh from a player for injuring an opponent or doing something dirty; It should be to get players to stop doing the things that result in suspensions and change the bad behavior, eliminating the plays that do result in avoidable injuries.
If more players took the mindset that Matheson did here (a willingness to understand the decision, and acknowledging that it looks bad, and probably is bad, and perhaps has a willingness to change it in the future) it might bring the results that the league is — at least in theory — ultimately hoping for.
Matheson also tried to explain, from his perspective, what exactly happened on the play.
“He’s a skilled player and he makes good plays and you have to respect that,” said Matheson. “When you’re in a battle with somebody you want to play them hard and make sure they can’t beat you back to the net and get good body position on them. There was no point in my frame of mind where I was thinking, ‘oh, I have to injure this guy.’ It was part of the game, it was just a hockey play where I think the fact I went into the boards stick on puck and my stick kind of got stuck in there, propped him up a bit too much, and that’s probably what led to what happened afterwards. It’s not like I put my stick in there to put him up and push him down. If people think that’s whats going on in mind when trying to play the game of hockey then that’s pretty foolish.”
He also added that he reached out to Pettersson in the days following the incident and that Petterson thanked him for reaching out.
In the end, no matter why he did it, what was going through his mind, or how it happened, it was still a dangerous play, an unnecessary play, and a play that knocked an opponent out of the lineup.
That is absolutely deserving of a suspension.
Matheson is free to be disappointed with it and the perception about it, especially if he’s sincere in his comments here.
But it’s even more important that he gets it and understands it.
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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.