Outrage grows over escalating NHL violence

Thu Mar 10, 2011 3:10pm EST
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By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - The National Hockey League was under attack from all sides on Thursday as fans, sponsors and politicians expressed outrage at the rising levels of violence in the sport, following a devastating hit on Montreal Canadiens' forward Max Pacioretty.

The romantic image of children playing hockey on a pond that appears on Canada's five-dollar bill was replaced by disturbing pictures of Pacioretty lying unconscious on the ice on Tuesday after having his head violently slammed into partition at the end of the players' bench by the Boston Bruins' hulking 6-foot, 9-inch, 260-pound defenseman Zdeno Chara.

As a sellout crowd at Montreal's Bell Center watched in stunned silence, Pacioretty was carefully loaded onto a stretcher and rushed to a Montreal hospital where he remains with a fractured vertebrae and severe concussion.

Despite being assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct, Chara escaped further punishment for his role in the gruesome collision, sparking a firestorm of anger that has been building for months following a string of on ice fights, and ugly hits that have sidelined some of the NHL's biggest names, including Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby.

That outrage could even be heard in Canada's House of Commons on Wednesday, as politicians from all parties voiced concerns about the escalating violence.

The Conservative government stopped short of saying it would intervene if the NHL did not clean up its act but Minister of State for Sport Gary Lunn called the hit "unacceptable" adding: "We would do everything to ensure that NHL does not allow this kind of action to continue."

Unless the NHL acts quickly, it could also find the league's finances taking a hit. Air Canada, one of the NHL's major backers, has threatened to withdraw its sponsorship if the league does not take serious action on hits to the head.

Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick confirmed to Reuters that director of marketing and communications, Denis Vandal, had sent a letter to all six of Canada's NHL clubs making it clear the airline expects the league to take action or risk losing it as a financial partner.   Continued...

<p>Combination photo shows Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (L) as he hits Montreal Canadiens Max Pacioretty into a glass stanchion during the second period of NHL hockey play in Montreal, March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Shaun Best</p>