Paille

BOSTON – You can criticize the Bruins for a lot of things, but hypocrisy is not one.

The team that has pleaded since the time of Randy Jones’ hit from behind on Patrice Bergeron in 2007 all the way through Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard last spring for more responsibility among players when it comes to hits to the head wasn’t shying away tonight from criticism of  the Rule 48 violation their teammate Daniel Paille committed against Dallas’ Ray Sawada.

A little past the halfway point of the second period, Paille leveled Sawada with a lateral hit reminiscent of the Cooke hit on Savard and the hit Mike Richards threw at David Booth last season – a pair of plays that were impetuous for the eventual adoption of Rule 48.

Most of the time when these dangerous acts are committed, the guilty party’s teammates hem and haw over the legality of the play, the speed of the game and the great nature of the player. A few Bruins who spoke about the play after Boston’s 6-3 at TD Garden actually admitted that Paille was probably in the wrong.

“I mean it’s a bad hit, right? That’s what they’re trying to get rid of and you can’t be hypocritical about it when it happens to you, and say it’s fine when your teammate does it,” said defenseman Andrew Ference, who has made a habit of sticking up for his teammates on and off the ice ever since he came to Boston in 2007. “It’s a hit they’re trying to get rid of. I mean you hear it from every player after they do it, they feel bad, and same thing, I talked to Danny and he feels bad. It’s tough, that backchecking forward, to make those kind of hits. It’s so hard to do it in a clean fashion, with the new rules. It is what it is. He hurt the guy, and I’m sure he’ll have a conversation [with the league].”

Winger Blake Wheeler also sympathized with Paille, but the third-year forward and team-wide Lady Byng candidate also knows a violation of a rule when he sees it.

“It’s probably the exact hit their trying to get rid of,” said Wheeler. “It’s such a touchy subject and there’s so much gray area that you’d like to be able to say it’s a clean hit, and you can’t really call it a dirty hit either. I mean, the guy’s got his head down looking for the puck, and as a hockey player that’s kind of what you’re taught when you’re able to start hitting, is you want to be able to finish that check and kind of have a big hit.

“With the amount of concussions that are mounting in all sports, including hockey, and the head issues that’s kind of circulating through sports, it’s kind of one that you almost have to skate away from. Which is too bad, because it’s a big part of the game and it’s a huge momentum thing for a team when guy lays his body on the line too. I thought it was a great play by [Paille] but unfortunately that’s what they’re looking to get rid of.”

Bergeron didn’t see the hit but said that if it was a hit to the head, it’s the type of play “we’ve got to get rid of.”

All I have to say is “Hallelujah.”

The league can institute every rule it wants, and can change all the equipment it wants, and even put stickers on the backs of helmets and patches on the backs of sweaters all it wants. But the No. 1 way to reduce the amount of head shots and ensuing concussions is by getting the players to respect one another as human beings that would all like to someday walk away from this game with memories and motor functions. It also helps when players realize that their teammates are as culpable for an illegal play as their opponents.

My personal experiences with Paille have proven to me that he’s the most unassuming professional athlete on Earth. He’s affable and free of all pretense. You get the idea that off the ice he wouldn’t step on an ant (and sometimes he even plays that way). But the intent is never the problem. It’s the result of an act that could’ve been prevented.

The biggest difference between Richards’ hit and Paille’s shot is that Richards’ occurred before Rule 48. The rule against lateral and blindside hits to the head has been on the books all season, it has been the topic of too many debates to mention and players have been shown an instructional video. Paille has to react to that play with two intentions – play the puck-carrier and avoid contact with the head. If he couldn’t do the first thing without executing the second, he needed to let Sawada go (he had Ference between him and the goal). It might be sacrilege, but it’s the rule: get low with your hit or be shown the gate.

Paille received a game misconduct in addition to a major penalty and now he could find himself suspended – as well he should. No one is saying Daniel Paille or Mike Richards or even Matt Cooke is the Devil incarnate. (Although with Cooke it’s debatable). All I’m saying, and what it seems some of the Bruins are conveying, is that sometimes a nice person does something evil. Sometimes a person snaps, sometimes the gun accidentally goes off and sometimes you get caught up in the heat of a physical hockey game and blast a guy who can’t see you with a shot to the head.

Now Paille will pay the price. Hopefully he’ll learn his lesson. But more important, we found out that the Bruins do really care about the well-being of others, whether the injured party wears black and gold or another set of colors.

That type of consistency from a team in such a dangerous, physical sport is more commendable than even potent power play or great goaltending. For now, the Bruins definitely lead the league in sincerity when it comes to hits to the head.