Andrew Alberts, his head slammed into the boards Monday night in Philadelphia by Flyers forward Scott Hartnell, offered no opinion regarding the two-game suspension Hartnell was issued as supplemental discipline yesterday by NHL headquarters.
"Oh, yeah," said the 26-year-old Bruins defenseman, when informed of the suspension as he made his way home from a team charity event held at Target in Woburn. "I don't have any comment on it."
Meanwhile, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli expressed disappointment over both the hit and the length of the suspension.
"The hit was completely unnecessary," said Chiarelli. "I did see [Hartnell] first kind of hold up, but then, after holding up, he followed through with his elbow. That's a classic head shot - and it easily could have been avoided."
After consulting with trainer Don Del Negro yesterday morning, Alberts felt well enough to participate in the club's charity toy shopping spree at Target. As he drove home around rush hour, pulling over to be interviewed via phone, he said he was tired but generally felt better, and plans to be aboard this afternoon's charter flight to Florida, where the Bruins tomorrow night will play the Panthers. Alberts said he hopes to be back in the lineup for that game.
"I'm feeling better," he said. "Last night was pretty tough . . . constant headaches all night. But I felt somewhat better in the morning."
Noting that he respects the league's disciplinary procedures, Chiarelli nonetheless said he is "very disappointed at the length of suspension, as well as the fact that we are the victims here for a second time."
The first time, by Chiarelli's measure, came Oct. 27, when Flyers defenseman Randy Jones left Bruins center Patrice Bergeron with a Grade 3 concussion and fractured nose. The league likewise suspended Jones two games for that hit, and Bergeron, who has yet to either play or practice, could be out for the season.
"It's probably a coincidence that it's us for a second time," said Chiarelli, "but I'd say it's not a coincidence that it's the same team."
The Flyers have had four players suspended for aggressive play since the start of the exhibition season. Prior to the Jones and Hartnell incidents, Jesse Boulerice and Steve Downie were ordered to the sidelines by NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell. These days, the Sons of the Broad Street Bullies pile up suspensions and related fines at a faster rate than ex-Flyer Dave "The Hammer" Schultz once dropped his mitts.
With 14:22 gone in the second period Monday night, the Bruins in command of a 5-2 lead, the 6-foot-4-inch Alberts dropped to his knees just inside Boston's defensive end, near the left boards. According to Alberts, one of Boston's top four blue liners, he kneeled in an attempt to block a dump-in pass by one of the Philly defensemen. Out of the corner of his eye, said Alberts, he saw Hartnell coming his way.
"I was taught from the time I was playing Pee Wee hockey that you don't hit a guy when he's on his knees," said Alberts. "I went down to make the block, and as I'm doing it, I see [Hartnell], and I'm thinking, 'No way is he going to hit me.' "
But while still on his knees, defenseless, Alberts was crushed by the onrushing Hartnell, the strapping 6-2, 210-pound winger who was originally a first-round draft pick of the Predators.
The replay distinctly shows Hartnell "finishing" his check, lifting an elbow toward the defenseman's helmeted head, causing Alberts to take the brunt of the hit to his left temple and side of the head, which banged against the top dasher. Alberts dropped face-first to the ice and lay there for some three minutes, tended to by Del Negro.
Once helped to his feet, Alberts slowly made his way to the bench, teammates Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman providing him support at the elbows.
"That's a senseless play to rub me out there," said Alberts. "I don't get it. But, hey, what's done is done, I guess."
Chiarelli said he and coach Claude Julien have cautioned all of their players to offer little or no comment about hits and suspensions, or the league's justice system in general.
"We've told them to keep it to a minimum," said Chiarelli. "We don't want the team to lose focus. We want them to play, and at the same time to know that we've got their backs."
Truth is, other than to state their case to the league, there is little Chiarelli or Julien can do to protect their players from being manhandled in races for the puck (see: Jones on Bergeron) or being ambushed while on their knees (see: Hartnell on Alberts). Chiarelli said he stated his case yesterday to Campbell, and that's all a GM is allowed to do. Otherwise, it's in the hands of a one-man court (see: Campbell).
According to Campbell, Hartnell could have hit Alberts harder.
"It appears Mr. Hartnell was attempting to let up on delivering a check to an opponent that was in a vulnerable position," said Campbell in a release issued by the league. "However, at the point of contact, he did deliver a blow to the head of Mr. Alberts that resulted in an injury."
Hartnell, who was tagged with a five-minute boarding major and game misconduct, will forfeit $44,919.78 for the two-game suspension.
Alberts, who did not return to the game, said the blow left him with an aching head as well as a small cut, one that did not require stitches, high on his head. He also suffered temporary blurred vision, which was the main symptom, he said, that prevented him from getting back on the ice. On the club's charter flight home, he felt nauseated.
"I talked with Donnie [Del Negro] on the flight, and after we landed," explained Alberts. "I don't know if the sickness was because of altitude or what.
"But with my head hurting and everything, just as a precaution, in case it was a concussion, I stayed up most of the night. I slept a little, but not much."
Following the hit on Bergeron, said Alberts, he spoke with teammate Andrew Ference about the increased amount of hitting in the game and the increase in accompanying injuries.
"I think Andrew kind of said it best," said Alberts. "It seems like guys are out there hitting just to hit people, rather than hitting with a purpose - which is to hit guys to separate them from the puck. That's what hitting is supposed to be about."
There are two reasons, said Alberts, that players are taught not to hit opponents who are on their knees.
"The first, obviously, is that they're vulnerable," he said. "And the second is, no matter what you do, you know you're going to hit the guy in the head - you're standing, he's kneeling. Nothing good can come of it.
"I've always taken pride in the fact that I don't hit anyone while they're kneeling and I don't hit a guy's knees. But that's the way I learned. Maybe other guys learn different ways."
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.