Was Ovechkin's Hit Dirty?
Ovechkin (red) sends Switzerland's Valentin Wirz flying
Here's a more detailed look at the hit that earned Alexander Ovechkin a one-game suspension from the IIHF World Championships yesterday.
You'll find a link to a high-quality video of the play further down, but first, Mike Vogel, who is one of a crew of writers who've been reporting on the World Championships for the Washington Capitals web site, sets up the incident this way:
Ovechkin began the game skating on the left side of a line with Washington center prospect Ivan Nepryayev. That line’s second shift on the ice was a particularly active one for Ovechkin. It started when Russian defenseman Alexey Emelin tried to hit Ovechkin with a long home run pass up the middle, a bid that was broken up by the stick of a Swiss defender.
Later in the shift Ovechkin went into the corner and won a puck battle, and he also issued a couple bodychecks in the offensive zone. At the end of his shift, he got tangled up with Switzerland’s Paul di Pietro. di Pietro was sent off for roughing, and Ovechkin went to the box at the same time, to serve a bench minor for too many men on the ice.
Shortly after serving that sentence, Ovechkin made a beeline for Swiss forward Valentin Wirz and checked him from behind. Wirz lost his helmet in the collision and went down, stunned. The game officials took Ovechkin to the penalty box while Wirz’s teammates ministered to him.
Initially, a two-minute minor was put up on the scoreboard, and it appeared Ovechkin would also receive a 10-minute misconduct because Ilya Kovalchuk was in the box alongside him. But after a lengthy deliberation of more than five minutes, Ovechkin was escorted to the locker room and the penalty announced to an unhappy capacity crowd here.
Ovechkin leaving the ice
When you watch the video, which shows multiple replays from different angles, you'll see Wirz taking a pass and skating along the boards as he carries the puck through the neutral zone. Ovechkin then steps out of the penalty box and into Wirz' path, catching Wirz with his head lowered and looking the other way.
In an interview with Sport Express, Ovechkin seems to be claiming that Wirz ran into him (translation by Russian Hockey Digest):
As I left the penalty box, the opponent was skating towards me. I did not move in his direction whatsoever, otherwise the impact would have been much harder. I saw him only at the last moment, because before I left the penalty box I was watching what was happening on the ice. He was but a meter from me. I had nowhere to go.
The head referee did not see the incident and relied on the opinion of the linesman. He judged that I hit the opponent with my elbow, yet he was behind me and could not see anything clearly. The impact was delivered with my shoulder. There was no elbow there.
I don’t think that anyone will condemn me for it. Everyone understands that there wasn’t and couldn’t have been intentional motion on my part.
I watched the rest of the game from the stands with my father. He said, "Don't worry-- hockey, it's a physical sport."
The cover of today's Soviet Sport
My thought is this: If I'm getting ready to leave the penalty box, and I'm watching the play on the ice developing (as Ovechkin says he was) while I'm standing there waiting for the door to open, I'm pretty sure that I would've been aware that the puck-carrier was about to run into me.