I'm posting this video since I was at this game, and tweeted about the incident afterwards. Tri-City Americans forward Brendan Shinnimin, who is currently tied for the league lead in scoring with potential NHL #1 pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Red Deer, launches Saskatoon Blades forward Josh Nicholls into the end boards from behind. It was Shinnimin's second hit from behind within a minute span, as he got away with a hit from behind on Blades captain Teigan Zahn on the previous sequence. It was the Americans' THIRD hit from behind in a 2 minute span... defenseman Zachary Yuen hit Curtis Hamilton from behind on a play that probably should've earned him more than a 2 minute minor.
Hitting from behind at any level of hockey, particularly when dealing with teenagers, seems like an issue non-grata. What Shinnimin did was absolutely atrocious, but it was merely the escalation that comes at the end of games where the outcome is not in doubt. You may look at the scoreline from this game and think differently, but the fact of the matter was in the 3rd period of that game, the Blades played the best shutdown hockey I've ever seen them play... they outshot the Americans 21-5 in the 3rd period, despite giving up an early goal to make the game 4-3. With 3:45 to play, Yuen's penalty was the final straw, ending any hope of a late surge. The Blades scored their 5th goal... the second of the night and fifth of the season for Nicholls.
When Shinnimin's hit on Zahn went uncalled (it luckily avoided the boards, it was on enough of an angle to do so despite being behind the goal line), I must say as a fan I got nervous. I expected the goons to come out... it's a tactic the Blades have used before under Lorne Mollekon, and cost them a lot of suspensions last year in the playoffs after Red Deer forward Josh Cowen blatantly charged Blades goalie Steven Stanford near the end of a sure loss. Instead, Mollekon sent out his best players again, and unfortunately Nicholls was victimized.
Quite simply put... a 2 minute minor for checking from behind is not protecting anyone's head. At least his team is holding him out of the next 3 games (though they didn't rush to get him off the ice after his hit on Zahn). A suspension is coming, and it'll be interesting to see how severe it is. Unlike the OHL and QMJHL, the WHL has not been known for handing out excessive suspensions in the past. I've personally questioned the value of the suspension lengths given out by those leagues, but for a hit from behind... I can't think of a play this common that is more dangerous.
In year's past the Blades have gotten away with their fair share of similar hits. My friends and I have joked, calling hits from behind a "Colton Gillies special", since he seemed to frequently be praised for obvious boarding/hitting from behind calls on the scoreboard (the Blades arena staff awards a hit of the game each time). Officials have to be quick to call major penalties and automatic game misconducts for such hits... and WHL teams should invest in those "stop" signs that are used in practices on their regular jerseys. It's way to prevelant in today's game.
Hat tips to Buzzing the Net, The Star-Phoenix, Gregg Drinnan, and the Saskatoon Blades Fan Blog for keeping this issue alive. I probably should have posted something myself earlier as a witness... but not having the aid of video makes it difficult to explain.