EDMONTON — “I’d do it again.”
If it sounds like Edmonton Oilers’ Zack Kassian hasn’t learned a thing from the two-game suspension levied by Department of Player Safety head George Parros, there is one thing he might change.
What he’s learned is, a predatory hit that few in hockey approve of is OK in the eyes of the Department of Player Safety, a fact Kassian has filed away for future Battles of Alberta.
“After speaking with Parros on the phone he explained how the (Matthew Tkachuk) hit is not dirty, so that cleared up a lot of things,” Kassian said. “It gave me some clarity on what you can and can’t do now. So, I put that in the memory bank.
“Sometimes you have to give them a taste of their own medicine.”
As we wrote yesterday, there is some concern at League offices that two Tkachuk hits — where the defending winger drops down out of position to catch a vulnerable opponent who is coming around the net, usually already engaged with a defender — are coming back. During the Calgary Flames’ game agains the Oilers last Saturday, Tkachuk tagged Kassian twice with that hit, deemed “predatorial” when it was made famous by the likes of Raffi Torres, Matt Cooke and Colby Armstrong.
Rule 48 has gone a long way to eliminating that particular hit, but the league found no fault in Tkachuk, who had his feet on the ice and his elbow tucked in.
“I’m not crying about the hits. It’s hockey — it’s rough,” Kassian said on Tuesday. “I’ve laid big hits like that, I’ve been hit like that. But two hits are more than enough.
“Clean or dirty, if someone takes two blindside runs at you, I told (Parros), since I’ve been in minor Midgets I’ve stood up for myself and my teammates. To me those are two dangerous hits. If they’re clean, they are predatorial — which is fine. I’m a big boy and I love big-boy hockey, but … he messed with the wrong guy. I don’t think he realizes we’re in the same Division, and I have a great memory.”
Kassian misses Tuesday’s game against the Nashville Predators and Saturday’s fixture against the Arizona Coyotes. He will return after the Oilers’ January break for a home game against Tkachuk’s Flames on Jan. 29, and another in Calgary on Feb. 1. The two teams close out their regular seasons with an April 4 game in Calgary.
“They might have won the battle (last Saturday), but there’s still a war to be had,” promised Kassian, who is the last of a dying breed — a tough, tough player with the skills and skating ability to play in today’s NHL. “It’s not my fault a lot of the (NHL teams) don’t have tough guys like me anymore. But, if you’re going to run around like that when I’m on a team? It’s not gonna happen.”
Inside the game, as was exhibited by supportive tweets from all corners of the hockey world — from Finn Teemu Selanne to ex-NHLer Scottie Upshall, who is playing in Switzerland – Tkachuk’s hits are seen as cheap shots for which a player should answer by fighting, if the victim so chooses.
“If he just answers the bell right there, nothing would have happened. And he might just gain a percentage of respect in the league,” said Kassian, who stands an inch taller and weighs nine more pounds than Tkachuk. “If you’re going to run around like that you have to answer the bell. He clearly hasn’t done that his whole career.”
Outside of Twitter, Kassian’s phone blew up on Sunday morning as highlights of the altercation traveled across the hockey landscape.
“That was the cool part,” he said. “I woke up the next day and had 20 text messages from around the league. Guys I didn’t even know. Ex-players, current players, people who work for different teams. I was glad to know people have my back. I think I play a pretty honest game.”
Since Kassian has come to Edmonton and conquered his addictions, he does play a pretty honest game. A pending unrestricted free agent, as the Battle of Alberta ramps up, we would predict he’ll play that game in Edmonton for perhaps another four seasons after this one.
“I have a great memory,” he said.