MONTREAL - The hit that sent Montreal Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty to hospital might be severe enough to warrant criminal charges against the Boston Bruins player who delivered the blow, according to a legal analyst.
Pacioretty suffered a fractured vertebrae and a serious concussion when Boston blueliner Zdeno Chara slammed him into a padded stanchion on the end of the glass near the Bruins bench during Tuesday night's game at the Bell Centre.
The NHL decided not to fine or suspend Chara, saying he did not target the head, leave his feet or deliver a dangerous hit.
"This was a hockey play that resulted in an injury because of the player colliding with the stanchion and then the ice surface," NHL senior vice-president Mike Murphy said in a statement. "In reviewing this play, I also took into consideration that Chara has not been involved in a supplemental discipline incident during his 13-year NHL career."
Jean-Pierre Rancourt, a lawyer and former university hockey player, disagreed with Murphy's assessment, saying Chara's bodycheck appeared to be intentional.
"When we're on the ice, we know exactly where we are," Rancourt told QMI Agency. "Chara ... could have waited a fraction of a second and hit him into the glass. We see that he delivered the hit at exactly the right moment."
On-ice hockey incidents rarely result in criminal charges in Canada but such cases are not unheard of:
- Jonathan Roy, son of NHL great Patrick Roy, pleaded guilty in 2009 to assault for pummelling an opposing goalie during a March 2008 junior hockey game.
- Bruins defenceman Marty McSorley was found guilty of assault with a weapon after he clubbed Vancouver Canucks forward Donald Brashear over the head with his stick during a game on Feb. 21, 2000.
- In 1988, Minnesota North Stars forward Dino Ciccarelli received a day in jail and a $1,000 fine after a stick-swinging incident in which he struck Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Richardson three times.
Rancourt says it's not easy for the Crown to win hockey assault cases because of the difficulty in proving criminal intent.
"If (Chara is) charged, he could always ... say 'I didn't plan to hit him," said Rancourt. "It has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
Sports-law expert Patrice Brunet says he doesn't believe prosecutors have grounds to charge Chara. Hits that take place in the heat of the play aren't the same as face-to-face fights or sucker punches, he said.