Havlat did what he had to do

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

"Yeah, well what would you do?" That was the question a former NHLer posed when it was suggested that Martin Havlat's kick to the groin of big Bruin Hal Gill was the work of a guy who is fast becoming one of the dirtiest players in the league.

"What would you have done in the same situation Havlat was in?" he asked again.

My reply: The same thing.

Now, booting somebody in the balls is not the way you'd teach little Billy to deal with problems in the schoolyard.

It shouldn't even be Option A for the big boys on an NHL rink. But Havlat didn't exactly have a catalogue of choices. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 204 lbs., his weigh-in was clearly done after a hearty lunch at Pestos.

Meanwhile, Gill is every bit if not more of the 6-foot-7 and 250 lbs. claimed in the program, meaning the skilled Senator was giving up a a whole lot of size during their second-period showdown.

Gill's hands were up near Havlat's face, and he was pushing. Gill's reach is such that, if Havlat was trying to poke him in the nose, he'd make it just past the elbow.

Literally, he was between a rock and a hard place -- and being squeezed.

"You've got that pain from the net in your back .... I'm pretty sure it doesn't feel very good, and you've got that big ape on you," said the ex-player. "You've got no leverage, you're pissed off and the only thing free is your feet.

"I'm not condoning his actions, but I'm not exactly sure what other recourse he had."

The thing that will work against Havlat is a rather sensitive two months of his life in 2004. Early that January, he was suspended two games for kicking then-New York Islanders defenceman Eric Cairns in the groin. In February, he was handed another two-game sentence for slashing then-Philadelphia Flyer Mark Recchi in the face.

"He's a reckless player," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said at the time. "Some day, someone is going to make him eat ... his ... lunch. He's going to get it someday and it's going to be harsh."

Recchi had similar criticisms, to which Havlat replied: "They can say what they want. I don't feel good about what I did.

"I was frustrated with the hooking before that. I gave him a shot.

"I didn't mean to hit him in the face. I don't think I hit him with the stick. I thought it was more of an elbow."

Saturday, Havlat didn't bother denying or sugarcoating his actions.

When asked about kicking Gill, his attitude was also a little what-would-you-have-done-ish?

Because he is so fast and so damn shifty, Havlat will always frustrate opponents into either cheap shots or hooks. Personally, I like that he has an edge that makes his responses unpredictable.

It's not his background to drop the gloves and fight -- and Chris Neil, Brian McGrattan or Zdeno Chara aren't always going to be close enough to step in for him -- so Havlat's going to have to use whatever means he has to create himself some room.

That said, he's probably going to wind up with a 3-5 game suspension for this latest bit of dirtiness. But sooner or later, opponents are bound to stop taking liberties with him.


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