Two losses from one elbow?
Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun
It was a critical, split-second decision that may well have determined the outcome of the Memorial Cup, or, at the very least, the fate of one of the teams competing at the historic tournament.
And while that might sound a tad over-the-top, it’s also true.
Bruising defenceman Brayden McNabb means the world to the Kootenay Ice junior hockey team. A huge physical presence on the blueline and the club’s top scoring defenceman, the 6-foot-4, 218-pounder is the complete player, the kind of D-man coaches dream of, that is, if there are any coaches who actually sleep.
Last week, the Davidson, Sask., native signed with the Buffalo Sabres, the NHL team that drafted him in the third round in 2009, and the consensus among the hockey intelligentsia at this event is that McNabb should enjoy a big career on the Niagara Frontier.
But his decision on Saturday night to drive his left elbow into the face of Owen Sound’s top forward, Joey Hishon, may have — probably has — put the Kootenay Ice too far behind the eight ball to challenge for the 2011 Memorial Cup.
On Sunday night at the Hershey Centre, with McNabb serving a one-game suspension as a result of the hit, Kootenay lost to an equally desperate Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors squad 2-1 to fall to 0-2 at the event. And while it’s not impossible to bounce back from an 0-2 start at the Memorial Cup, it’s almost impossible. Only one team in the history of the tournament, the Windsor Spitfires in 2009, has come back to win the Cup after losing its first two games.
With McNabb out of the lineup, the Ice — though it steamrolled its way through the WHL playoffs — could not overcome the Majors, and now it could be all over for the lads from Western Canada.
Only three days into the tournament The Hit has already become the talking point of the event — and will likely continue to have ramifications down the road.
Just imagine, for instance, if Kootenay faces Owen Sound in an elimination game and the Attack is still without Hishon, the club’s leading scorer this season with 87 points in 50 games and an OHL first-team all-star.
“(That) would not be right,” said Attack coach Mark Reeds.
Or, if Hishon is unable to play against the Saint John Sea Dogs on Monday night and Owen Sound loses? Imagine all the long faces up yonder in Grey County if that happens? (And I’m not just talking about the horses).
Reeds said Sunday that Hishon will undergo a baseline test on Monday to determine whether he suffered a concussion. As of Sunday, his status for Monday’s game against the hearty Sea Dogs was undetermined.
There’s nothing Owen Sound can do at this point about Hishon’s loss, other than, perhaps, ask Kootenay head coach Kris Knoblauch to put a sock in it. Of course, it’s Knoblauch’s duty to defend McNabb, but the first-year head coach’s insistence that the bruising defenceman’s elbow smash to Hishon’s face was accidental has to be grating to Reeds and the entire Owen Sound organization.
The replay suggests that McNabb knew what he was doing, particularly given the fact that, at the time of the hit, the Attack was leading the Ice 3-0 in the third period and the Kootenay players were clearly frustrated and irritable.
Still, Knoblauch continued to pitch the idea on Sunday that McNabb would never do such a dastardly thing on purpose, even though he led the Ice in penalty minutes this season with 121.
“Does he have a history of doing that? Absolutely not,” said Knoblauch. “It was unfortunate. Was there intent to injure and did he go looking to make that contact? Absolutely not. Hishon was trying to get out of the way and for (McNabb) to get his elbow out of the way in such a short period of time was very difficult, or unreasonable.”
“Brayden McNabb does that almost every other game, steps up and makes a big hit and has never been suspended for it,” he added.