The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is making news for all the wrong reasons following a highly controversial hit in a game over the weekend. One of the league’s better players, Philadelphia Flyers’ forward prospect Pascal Laberge, was injured following a violent body check delivered by undrafted 20-year-old defenseman Zachary Malatesta of the Moncton Wildcats just inside Laberge’s blue line. Opinions on whether the hit was clean or dirty ran rampant after a video of the incident was posted on social media.
The Hit and Reactions
Allan Walsh, the agent who represents the Flyers’ second-round draft pick, took to Twitter on Oct. 16 to voice his displeasure with the hit, which he deemed a headshot, and the injuries sustained by his client.
Headshot by Monctons' (QMJHL) Zachary Malatesta on Flyers prospect Pascal Laberge is sickening and revolting. No place in game for this. pic.twitter.com/avWJhopBoY
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) October 16, 2016
Walsh would later confirm that his client suffered a concussion on the play and was still experiencing concussion-related symptoms the day following the hit.
Based on Walsh’s video alone, it’s difficult to see for sure where the initial point of contact was made and it’s unknown whether or not the league has any alternate angles of the hit. The video does clearly show, however, that the collision was violent in nature and Laberge’s stick can be seen flying through the air as a result of the impact.
The opinion of the vast majority seems to be that the hit was not a clean one and that it could be categorized as charging, boarding, and as an illegal check to the head.
Malatesta is known league-wide as a hard-hitting defenseman with a knack for catching his opponent’s with their heads down. The 5-foot-10 defender employs a physical style night in and night out and plays the game hard. He takes pride in his ability to provide his team with an intimidating presence on the blue line and he ensures that his opponents are aware when he’s on the ice. Malatesta’s efforts have not gone unnoticed over his QMJHL career as he earned an invitation to the New York Rangers’ development camp this past offseason.
The Massachusetts-native had delivered big hits in the past. The rearguard caught Rimouski Oceanic forward Tyler Boland with a devastating hit during the 2015-16 QMJHL season in almost the exact location on the ice as Laberge. The catch? The hit was seen by the league as clean and no suspension came of it.
Following the hit on Laberge, Malatesta was issued a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking to the head. As of right now, he’s also been suspended indefinitely by the QMJHL as we await the final verdict on how severe the league views the hit to be.
Despite having a reputation and history of delivering some massive open-ice hits, Malatesta has not previously warranted a suspension for a hit to the head. He has been suspended three times before during his QMJHL career: one game for abuse of officials, one game for removing an opponent’s helmet during a fight, and one game for kneeing.
The defenseman has already missed one game due to the suspension and it will be interesting to see how many games the QMJHL ultimately chooses to hand out.
Will there be additional pressure for the league to make an example out of Malatesta after a well-recognized agent has brought it to the attention of a wider audience? Will Laberge’s status as a second-round draft pick and star player influence the decision? On the other hand, how can the QMJHL suspend a player for the hit after the same player made almost the exact same hit on another player less than one year ago and received no further discipline?
Some people will say it’s a hockey hit and Laberge was in the trolley-tracks with his head down. Others will say that that type of hit no longer has a place in the game and will want to throw the book at Malatesta. Judging from initial reactions, there will no doubt be an uproar if he’s given anything less than 10 games.
In my opinion, the hit has all the criteria for a lengthy suspension: repeat offender, star player injured, and a spotlight from a national audience. Don’t be surprised if the league comes down hard on this one.
Mark Bowie covers the Edmonton Oilers and the QMJHL for THW.