Calm slowly returns to NHL as furor over Chara hit fades

Fri Mar 11, 2011 4:59pm EST
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By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - As the uproar over Zdeno Chara's horrific hit on Max Pacioretty subsided on Friday, the spotlight shifted back to the ice and whether it will ever again be business as usual for the National Hockey League.

Replays of the hulking Boston Bruins defenseman riding a speeding Pacioretty into a rinkside partition on Tuesday that left the Montreal Canadiens player with a concussion and broken vertebrae have faded along with much of the outrage that fans directed at the NHL for letting the incident go unpunished.

So after two days of super-heated rhetoric and emotions, calmer voices were being heard on Friday.

Pacioretty, since released from hospital, issued a statement asking that the incident that left his career in limbo not end up in Quebec court while Canadian politicians who added their voices to the hockey violence debate have since moved onto more pressing business.

It could take several days or weeks, however, for the NHL to assess the full impact of Chara's hit on league business.

Shortly after the ugly incident, Air Canada, one of the NHL's major sponsors, delivered a blindside hit of its own in a letter to the league and its six Canadian franchises saying it could no longer in good conscious continue to sponsor a league unwilling to reel in escalating violence.

"Unless the NHL takes immediate action with serious suspension to the players in question to curtail these life-threatening injuries, Air Canada will withdraw its sponsorship of hockey." wrote Denis Vandal, Air Canada's director of marketing and communications.

In a sport that embraces fighting, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman brushed off Air Canada's concerns with a terse response that made it clear sponsors, no matter how big, would not dictate league policy.   Continued...