The National Hockey League has opted to suspend Mark Scheifele four games for his hit on Montreal’s Jake Evans on Wednesday evening.
The hit came with 57 seconds left in what was a one-goal game at that point. Chasing down Evans, Scheifele flattened the young Habs forward milliseconds after he tucked the puck into Winnipeg’s open net for an insurance marker on a 5-3 victory. Evans was knocked out and lay concussed on the ice while teammates and opponents jawed above him.
Evans was stretchered off the ice but did not require a hospital visit after team doctors and representatives opted he would be best cared for in the hands of the team at their hotel in Winnipeg.
Scheifele was handed a five-minute major for charging and a game misconduct on the play. The NHL then announced that it would host a telephone hearing with Scheifele the following day, to which it can assign a suspension up to five games.
Following the hearing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety awarded a four-game ban for Scheifele, beginning with Friday’s Game 2 of the second round against the Canadiens.
In speaking with reporters on Friday morning for the first time since the hit that left Evans motionless on the ice, Scheifele admitted he felt the suspension was unwarranted and excessive, but only after offering his thoughts and prayers to Evans.
“I think first and foremost before we can talk about anything, the No. 1 thing is Jake Evans’ health,” Scheifele said in opening his availability. “I reached out to a couple of their guys and I hear he’s doing well. He didn’t have to go to the hospital, which is good news. First and foremost is his health and how he’s doing. I pray for a quick and speedy recovery for him, and that he’s OK.”
Scheifele clearly was upset with the suspension, and referred back to his in-game impact over the course of both this past season and his career.
“I think I’ve had 12 penalty minutes this year,” Scheifele reflected. “I’ve had one boarding penalty in my entire 600-game career, I haven’t had a charging penalty. I don’t think I’ve had more than 20 fricken hits a year. So my intention is not to injure or to make a hit, but to prevent a goal. That’s what my entire life is, that’s my job to keep pucks out of the net and score. That’s why I’m out there on six-on-five: to prevent a goal and go back the other way and score. So I think it’s excessive but you know, what can you do? The NHL has their own opinion.”
Although presented with the option to appeal the suspension to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Scheifele said that this process has lingered on long enough, citing he does not want to be a further distraction to the team.
“Yeah, I have an option to appeal, but I’m not going to. I don’t want to be a distraction to this team. It’s Game 2 of the playoffs (round) tonight, I’m going to accept the punishment. It really wouldn’t have done anything anyway, with the way that the rules kind of work with a suspension under six games. I don’t have much faith in that. I don’t want to be a distraction anymore. This has lingered on long enough.”
Jets head coach Paul Maurice – who earlier claimed the hit was clean – was also caught off-guard by the DOPS’ decision on the play.
“I think four is excessive,” Maurice said of the discipline handed down. “The Department of Player Safety has every right, and they’re needed in their role, to set precedent for hits, especially when there’s an injury involved. So they have that right. I don’t agree with it, but it’s set now and that’s where the National Hockey League game goes going forward. And we’ll learn from it and move on.”
Having now accepted the fact that he will be sidelined for the next four games, Scheifele does intend to make his way to Bell MTS Place on Friday to take in the action, before heading off to Quebec for the next two games.
“It’s a pretty special team,” he said of his teammates. “I have full faith in my team that I will be able to play a game again this year. I’ll be cheering loud and proud tonight; I’ll be cheering every single night.”