TORONTO - Keith Aulie can’t speak to what was running through Zdeno Chara’s mind when he sent Max Pacioretty crashing head first into the glass partition in Montreal on Tuesday night.
The hit knocked the Canadiens forward unconscious and sent him to the hospital with a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra, and sparked outrage across the country when no fine or suspension was levied by the NHL.
Nobody except Chara knows whether or not he was intentionally trying to injure Pacioretty. But Aulie finds it hard to believe the Bruins captain could have calculated the exact moment of impact to send Pacioretty flying into the partition.
“I find it very hard to believe that he had it in his mind, that he was saying: ‘OK, I want to drive this guy’s head into the divider,’” the Leafs defenceman said after the team’s morning skate Thursday.
“I just think, as players, we don’t have it memorized where all these glass dividers are. I’ve got hit into them before, it’s just sometimes that’s where you get hit. It’s no different than when a player gets hit over the bench. You don’t control where the benches are, sometimes that’s where you get hit.”
One thing for sure, the gruesome incident has once again put the issue of head hits in the public’s mind.
At 6-foot-7, Aulie is the closest thing the Leafs have to the 6-foot-9 Chara. And the Leafs rookie says it’s tough being a tall guy when it comes to head hits.
“It’s been a constant battle my whole life even before all the head-hit stuff,” the 21-year-old rookie said. “I’d always take penalties for getting elbows up or high-sticking. It’s been a constant battle to keep my hands down and keep my knees bent to stay under guys.”
So should height come into play when fines or suspensions are being levied?
“I don’t think the big guys should get a free ride. I think if there’s an intent to injure, then they should be punished. But lots of times I’ve felt forwards would run into me, or run their heads into my elbow or we’d be battling in the corner and they’d get a stick unintentionally in the face or something and I would get penalized just because I’m taller and because they’re putting their heads down.
“I think there’s a fine line there, where you really have to find out if the intent to injure was there or not.”