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This article was published 4/6/2021 (233 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele faced the music on Friday morning, expressing remorse for a brutal hit that hurt Montreal's Jake Evans, shock at a four-game playoff suspension, and anger over some vitriol being directed at his family.
"I can handle the punishment. I can accept the accountability. That’s what you sign up for, being in the NHL. But the hate that my family has gotten, the bullying that they’ve gotten, online, phone calls. It’s pretty gross to see," Scheifele said on a Zoom call, fighting back tears.
"My parents are the salt of the Earth. For my parents to get hate like that, and my brother and sister, it’s awful. I can handle it, I’m a grown man. I’ve accepted that and I can be held accountable for that. But for my family to get that, it hurts me a lot.
"In a society where you can hide behind a keyboard, that is the problem. I can handle the criticism. I got suspended four games. I got held accountable. But there’s no right to go after my parents, to go after my loved ones. That’s completely unacceptable."
"I got held accountable. But there’s no right to go after my parents, to go after my loved ones. That’s completely unacceptable." –Mark Scheifele
Scheifele will miss Games 2 through 5 of the North Division final against Montreal, a best-of-seven series his club trails 1-0 following a 5-3 loss on Wednesday night.
Scheifele crushed Evans with a massive hit immediately after the Canadiens forward iced the victory with an empty-net goal. He was given a charging major and misconduct, and then slapped with a four-game ban on Thursday.
Evans was stretchered off the ice but wasn't taken to hospital. He is suffering from a concussion and out indefinitely. Game 2 goes tonight at Bell MTS Place, then shifts to Montreal for Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Monday.
"I think first and foremost before we can talk about anything, the No. 1 thing is Jake Evans' health. I reached out to a couple of their guys and I hear he's doing well. I pray for a quick and speedy recovery for him, and that he's OK," said Scheifele.
Scheifele defended his actions, saying he was only trying to prevent Evans from scoring on the play. The NHL clearly disagreed in its ruling, calling the play "predatory."
"There's no intent, there's no malice there. I don't go in with a frame of mind of injuring a hockey player. My record precedes itself. I think I've had not one charging penalty in 600 games," Scheifele said.
"My thought process there is to cut him off at that post. Obviously when he gets behind the net I don't know if he's going to cut back, so I stop moving my feet in case he does a cut-back behind the net and I can re-route, go to the other side and cut him off at the other post. He might shallow out in the corner and then I have to gear down and try to angle him off into the corner.
"My thought process there is cutting him off at the post, and I'm backchecking and my thought process the entire way is there's a minute left in the game, we just scored, it's a one-goal game. My only thought in my mind is to negate a goal and prevent a goal."
"There's no intent, there's no malice there. I don't go in with a frame of mind of injuring a hockey player." –Mark Scheifele
Scheifele has reached out to Evans through some mutual friends on Montreal's roster, including Ben Chiarot and Brendan Gallagher.
"I had a good conversation with Gally. He’s a close friend of mine. He knows the person I am. He’s a guy that I have tremendous respect for. We had a great conversation and what was said is going to stay between us. To hear that, I know a lot of guys on their team... I think a lot of the league knows the person I am, knows my heart," he said.
"I think that’s in the entire league. From guys that I don’t even know that have reached out, being there for me, is incredible. At the end of the day... you want to be remembered for the impact you have on people. That’s what I’ve always prided myself on, that’s what my parents have always prided me on. I know the guys on their team know who I am, know the person I am and they know my intent."
Scheifele admits he was "jacked up" the entire game against Montreal, but denied he was out for a pound of flesh in the final minute. He'd been involved in several scrums during the game, including one with just under seven minutes left where he was penalized for cross-checking Chiarot.
"It was excitement. It was Game 1 in the (second round), we have 500 health-care workers in the building. You know, Benny’s one of my best friends. Golf with him 50 times a summer. It’s just like playing against Connor (McDavid) and Leon (Draisaitl) last series. It’s intense. You battle your friends even harder then you battle guys you don’t know. That’s playoffs," said Scheifele.
"They’re a team that will get into scrums and stuff like that. It’s just excitement. It’s excitement to be back in the playoffs, we had eight days off. It’s pure excitement for this game.... I’m jacked up, I’m excited to play hockey. My mood was pure joy that entire game."
As for the punishment, Scheifele called it "pretty excessive" but said he won't appeal.
"I don’t want to be a distraction to this team... from this point on, it’s all about the Winnipeg Jets. It’s not about me, it’s not about anything like that. It’s about the Winnipeg Jets and the guys in that room who are going to be battling for our team," he said.
"We have tons of depth on our team. We have so many guys on this team that can step up. We have tremendous character, we have tremendous everything on this team. It’s a pretty special team and I have full faith in my team that I will be able to play a game again this year. I’ll be cheering loud and proud tonight; I’ll be cheering every single night. Obviously just want to play a game again here this year."
Jets head coach Paul Maurice provided a lengthy defence of his star centre Thursday, prior to league's announcement of the suspension. He admitted he had already accepted, at least mentally, that Scheifele would be suspended two games, based on his decades-long coaching career.
But even though he agreed with Scheifele that the penalty seemed excessive, Maurice acknowledged the bigger picture, that the league is moving towards eliminating hits on vulnerable players. He viewed the suspension as a new precedent and accepted that he and the Jets must live with the changing times.
"I looked at that hit, and I used the word 'clean,' and the reason why I used it is because the things that I don't like in a hit, that I call them dirty, weren’t there for me." –Paul Maurice
"I looked at that hit, and I used the word 'clean,' and the reason why I used it is because the things that I don't like in a hit, that I call them dirty, weren’t there for me," Maurice said.
"And because of the distance travelled, because of the way that play developed, he had a really massive hit. That's the rule now going forward. Everybody gets it. It's a good thing if it keeps one more guy from getting hurt. We are 100 per cent behind that and they have to rate the players safety and I'm not complaining about that. I just thought from what I know, I thought we were going to get a two-gamer and we ended up getting more. We’ll live with it and move on, and that’s the standard going forward."
Predictably, the Canadiens expressed their extreme displeasure the night of the hit and again the next morning, hoping the NHL would hand out an appropriate sentence so the series could continue unaffected. Judging by their measured and somewhat quiet response Friday, it was clear they approved of the four-game suspension.
"They're missing a player, we're missing a player," Canadiens captain Shea Weber said, adding he wasn't going to speak any more on the hit. Canadiens forward Tyler Toffoli shared a similar sentiment, preferring to focus his attention on Game 2.
Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme had the final word, and seemed satisfied with a result, after hoping the NHL would act strongly and swiftly.
"We said it, the league is going to take care of it," Ducharme said. "They got the sentence out and, for us, we're preparing for tonight and it's behind us."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.