OHL makes right call on Smith

AEDAN HELMER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:13 AM ET

OTTAWA - Good on the OHL and commissioner David Branch for getting this one right.

With Branch’s iron-fisted crackdown on headshots at the junior level, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Dalton Smith would face a suspension for his thunderous check on Belleville Bulls import Daniil Zharkov in Friday’s Game 5, won 5-2 by the 67’s.

Speculation had the minimum suspension mirroring the eight-game ban Branch slapped on the Bulls’ Alex Carnevale for a similar hit on London’s Bo Horvat.

Or, more recently, the 10-game suspension to Kitchener’s Tyler Randell for a head check on Owen Sound’s Artur Gavrus.

But clearly, by not suspending Smith, Branch saw what the 6,838 fans in attendance — and many more watching the national broadcast — saw on Friday night.

That is, a good, hard — and most of all clean — open-ice bodycheck delivered by a guy who earns his keep in the league by doing just that.

“The league is going to call what they’re going to call. In this case it was a clean hit and he didn’t hit (Zharkov) in the head, and we’re obviously happy that the league saw what we saw and made the right call,” said 67’s coach Chris Byrne on Sunday.

“I thought it was one of my cleaner checks this season,” said Smith after being ejected from the game and assessed a five-minute major for checking to the head.

Zharkov lay face-down on the ice for several minutes and had to be helped off the ice, but emerged for the second period.

Meanwhile, Smith sat stewing in the 67’s locker room, watching the replay over and over while receiving texts and calls from friends and family members, all telling him the same thing: It was a clean hit.

But it wasn’t until Smith received the call from the league’s head office on Saturday that he could rest easy.

Not that he did much to help his cause with his post-game comments.

Unlike 67’s captain Marc Zanetti, who was repentant after spearing Stephen Silas in a pre-game scrum before Game 2 — Zanetti serves the final game of his five-game suspension Monday — Smith was unapologetic.

“What am I supposed to do, let (Zharkov) come around and score?” asked Smith.

On the play, Zharkov, one of the most dangerous Bulls forwards, was circling the net with his head down, and while he was reaching for a pass from Belleville captain Luke Judson, the puck was clearly in his possession in a scoring area when Smith lined him up.

Smith didn’t take a running leap. He didn’t raise his stick. He avoided contact with the head.

In his post-game comments, Smith put the blame on Zharkov.

“(Zharkov) was looking for the call, and as soon as it was made, he got right back up like nothing happened,” said Smith.

“I watched his head come up right before I hit him. We’ve seen it all season from him, going down and then as soon as they get the power play, he’s back out there. It’s embarrassing.”

Sure, the OHL had plenty to consider.

Smith is a repeat offender. The last time he served significant time, he deserved every one of the 10 games he was handed for leading with his elbow when he ran over Bulls netminder Malcolm Subban in the season opener on Sept. 23.

And Branch has always stood by his position that player protection is paramount in developmental leagues.

But suspending Dalton Smith does nothing to protect Danny Zharkov, especially once the Russian is drafted — likely in the first round this June — into the unforgiving NHL.

What will protect him is a tough and popular lesson that Zharkov has likely already learned the hard way: Keep your head up, kid.


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