MONTREAL - VIA Rail has become the latest NHL sponsor to criticize the way the league reacted to the body check that fractured the vertebra of Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty and left him severely concussed.
In a letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Friday, Yves Desjardins-Sicilliano, VIA's general counsel and secretary, wrote that the decision not to suspend or further penalize Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara after Tuesday night's game was "ineffective and unacceptable."
VIA's letter comes after Air Canada on Thursday threatened to pull its NHL sponsorship. The airline's spokesperson also wrote to Bettman, claiming that "it is becoming harder and harder to associate ourselves with a sport that can lead to these kinds of serious and irresponsible accidents." Tim Hortons and BCE Inc. have also reportedly called for the NHL to do more to protect players.
"VIA Rail is concerned, as are its customers, that the NHL seems unable to take appropriate measures to protect the physical integrity of its players," wrote Desjardins-Sicilliano.
VIA Rail sponsors the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators.
VIA spokesperson Elizabeth Huart said the company will not pull its sponsorship with either team.
"It was really just a letter to express our concern," she said. "We were not comfortable with the way this (Chara) incident was dealt with. At the same time, our employees and customers wrote to us saying this is not good ... and that's why we chose to write the letter."
Meanwhile, the president of the Pittsburgh Penguins, David Morehouse, has come out in support of Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, who called out the league for its decision not to suspend Chara.
Molson, in a letter to fans published on the team's website, wrote of his "frustration, disappointment and shock" after learning the league wouldn't come down hard on Chara.
Morehouse told the Globe and Mail newspaper that his organization believes head shots "should be eliminated from the game, period." The Penguins have been without their star player Sidney Crosby since January, who suffered a head injury after a violent hit.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wasn't as supportive.
He wrote to French-language Montreal newspaper La Presse that the league "strongly disagrees" with the Montreal Canadiens organization about the Pacioretty hit.
VIA Rail said that it hopes its concerns are considered when the NHL's 30 general managers meet in Florida on March 14-16.