Many people wished Luke Gazdic or any Edmonton Oiler for that matter, had exacted some revenge on Canuck forward Zack Kassian Tuesday night. I was one of them.
WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE
Early in the season, Kassian recklessly and maybe even intentionally flung his stick around after missing a hit on Sam Gagner and hit him square in the face, shattering Ganger’s jaw. It’s hard to know if the intent was there but it was an incredibly dumb play regardless.
Kassian was asked if he was worried about pay back from the Oilers “Obviously I’m not too worried about someone coming after me. I have no problem standing up for myself. If they want to get some type of revenge, the door is open. Go ahead.”
When the Oilers played in Vancouver in December, I don’t recall much but I have to assume Gazdic asked him to fight if given the chance to match up with him early in the game. Nothing unfolded until late and at the end of the game Kassian was seen pointing at his jaw area, taunting the Oilers bench and specifically Gagner.
Clearly this infuriated fans and you would have to think the guys on the team.
On Tuesday night with the season lost for the Oilers, many people including myself on the Jason Gregor show discussed and hoped that Kassian may find himself with a dance partner whether he liked it or not.
It’s one thing for Kassian to do something accidently, it’s another to rub it in, and show no remorse. Maybe there were other things said on the ice that we don’t know of but from where I sit now, that’s what happened.
As it turns out Kassian didn’t have to pay the piper on Tuesday and he eventually scored the game winner. Fans and media were irate while players and coaches didn’t think there was anything more that could have been done in today’s game.
As the game crept into the second period, I was wondering why Gazdic hadn`t found Kassian. The answer early in the contest was Eakins never had Gazdic out there with him. That told me it wasn`t a priority for the coach.
As the game went on they came together on a couple of occasions and it was clear Kassian was not going to drop his gloves. I like many I`m sure, yelled out loud while watching the game “just drop your mitts, make him fight!!”
I was disappointed it didn’t unfold and a little perplexed as to why it didn’t until I really sat back and thought about times in my career I was in a similar situations. So much can go on behind the scenes when you are actually playing.
For one, time has passed, maybe inside that room it’s not that big of a deal?
Secondly, retaliation especially ones that are pre meditated, really do have to be a legitimate concern. I can`t argue with the coach and players post-game suggestions. Four months had gone by.
Twice in my career, I can recall being in the exact same shoes as Gazdic. Several months had gone by and both times I accomplished no more than him seeking revenge, likely for similar reasons.
The closest I ever got to being told to fight in my entire career, was in my 11th NHL game as a twenty year old versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. The season before Darcy Tucker had taken a good run at teammate Sergei Gonchar and injured him.
As I got dressed in my stall before the game, my coach Bruce Cassidy sat down beside me and said “I don’t know if you know what happened last year with Tucker and Gonchar but you could really make a name for yourself with your teammates tonight, you know what I mean?” I did know what happened before and I knew exactly what he meant.
Of course my first shift, I lined up right beside him. I asked him to go and he laughed at me. Some twenty year old pretending he’s tough, trying to make a name for himself was comical for a veteran like Tucker.
I crossed checked and grabbed him immediately off the draw and was sent to the box. I’m pretty sure they scored on the power play but in my head I thought no big deal, I did what my coach had asked of me and my teammates saw I tried.
After my second minor penalty on him in the same game, I gave up. I could have jumped him I guess but by now it was 6 months after the incident and quite frankly, I looked like an idiot, not him.
I even felt like my own teammates thought I was a moron for taking numerous penalties when he clearly wasn`t going to oblige me.
THE SECOND TIME
It was my first game playing Alexander Svitov. For those that aren’t aware of our history, he spit on me at the World Junior tournament the year before and I swore up and down publicly in the media I would get revenge.
Well here it was, right in front of my face. He was playing for Tampa Bay. I challenged him early in the game and he declined. I found him in the third period when we were up 4-0 and punched him again, challenging him but he didn`t want to drop his gloves. I finally just dropped mine before I was grabbed from behind by Chris Dingman and a small melee developed.
It was not pay back in my mind and the next time I got out there, I told myself I wasn`t asking any questions. I got back to the bench and my coach Bruce Cassidy leaned into my ear and said “Hey I know what happened but right now is not the time; you have to put personal stuff aside.”
I didn`t know why it wasn`t the right time, it seemed like the perfect time. Up 4-0, what’s not to like?
My next shift Mike Grier on the faceoff said “Suds, I got you if you want to get after it here”
I regretfully said “Nah coach won`t let me.”
I never played another game against him.
If I was older, I likely wouldn’t have listened because I`ve never felt so disrespected in my life but the coach controlled my ice time. I was trying to cement myself in the league, not find myself in his doghouse or back in the minors.
Most people in Edmonton including myself, want this team to push back and play with more fire. We looked to this game as the perfect opportunity for the Oilers to send a message to Kassian and to the rest of the league.
Gazdic will shoulder much of the blame for not taking it a step further on Tuesday but jumping someone is way easier said than done, especially when it’s not in the heat of the moment.
I know Gazdic knows his role, I know he wants to protect his teammates and no one has a tougher job in hockey than guys like him. Could he of just dropped his gloves and at the very least put Kassian in a tougher spot to say no without throwing a punch?
Yeah probably but with the Hartley fine and Shawn Thornton incidents as recent as they were, it`s hard not to think something was stopping him from going that far.
I would have loved to see him give Kassian absolutely no choice but when really reflecting on a game like Tuesday and considering all the factors there may have been, Gazdic was in a very tough spot.
He’s still the last guy this fan base needs to be worried about protecting his teammates.