With the lockout now in full swing, there is plenty of time to revisit one of the most controversial moments of last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
We all certainly remember the hit.
The setting: game five of the Western conference finals between the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings and the third-seeded Phoenix Coyotes, with the Kings leading the series three games to one. In a furiously heated see-saw battle, Keith Yandle had temporarily rescued the Coyotes’ season by notching the tying goal with 3:37 left in the third period, converting this tremendous Taylor Pyatt thread-the-needle pass:
The game subsequently went to overtime with Phoenix fighting to push one past Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Quick in sudden death, desperately hoping to send the series back to Los Angeles with a second straight win. After a tight, nerve-jarring first 17:30 of overtime, it happened:
Kings’ power forward Dustin Brown absolutely leveled Coyotes’ defenseman Michal Rozsival a split second after an off-sides whistle (alleged foul #1) with what some termed an intentional (alleged foul #2) knee-on-knee hit. Rozsival looked up initially after the contact, but then laid face down on the ice for a few moments before being helped to the training room.
After several minutes of pushing and shoving, play resumed. Mike Richards won the very next draw, Jeff Carter knifed down the right wing and snapped a wrister on net, and after the Smith save, Dustin Penner deposited the rebound top shelf to win the game and send Los Angeles to the Stanley Cup finals. The post-game handshake, always a sacred cow, was nevertheless marred by words between Brown and both Shane Doan as well as Martin Hanzal.
After the game, the Coyotes made no secret of their belief that the play by Brown was particularly dirty.
“How do you miss that?” said Phoenix captain Shane Doan. “I mean Rozy’s knee’s blown out. How do you miss that? How do you miss that when it’s after the whistle and it’s a knee? How can you possibly miss that?” Coyotes’ goaltender Mike Smith was even more pointed: “If Raffi Torres gets 25 games for his hit during the play then this guy [Brown] ought to be done forever.” Keith Yandle delved into the realm of conspiracy theory, saying “It’s a crime scene. They know we don’t have an owner, or anyone to back us up. I know the refs wear the same color uniforms as the Kings, but they didn’t have to play for them. You work your whole season for this, and for it to be taken by some guys that aren’t playing is tough.”
Brown, naturally, staunchly defended his the hit. “Rozsival was cutting to the middle and I cut across and made contact,” he said. “Obviously, they thought it was a kneeing. It happened at high speed. I felt like I got him with my shoulder and my left side and his right side all made contact from toe to shoulder.”
The debate spilled over to the NBC post-game show, where Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick argued vehemently as to whether or not Brown stuck out his knee or could have avoided the hit altogether. Rarely do analysts disagree so vociferously, as seen here:
Brown was not disciplined by the league for the hit on Rozsival.
More so than the timing of the hit, the key element that made it the subject of such rancorous debate was the question as to whether or not Brown intentionally stuck out the knee. Fans and pundits took positions on both sides, some claiming Brown led with the upper body and the knee was therefore incidental contact, while others insisted that he positioned his knee with the purposeful intent to injure and indeed made direct knee-on-knee contact. After all, they reasoned, Roszival’s blown out knee was prima facie evidence of that fact.
Speaking of which, what was the final diagnosis of Rozsival’s injury?
Two days after the game, The Arizona Republic reported that there was no structural damage to Roszival’s knee. Instead of the “blown out” knee as proclaimed by Doan, Rozsival had suffered a deep thigh bruise. The defenseman recovered during the off-season, and recently signed a $2 million, one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.
With the furor having long-since subsided and the Kings now firmly entrenched as Stanley Cup champions, the question four months later remains the same: with all the facts and myriad debates and analysis in hand, do you believe today that the hit by Dustin Brown on Michal Rozsival in that pivotal game five overtime was dirty? If so, should it have resulted in a penalty, a fine/suspension, or all of the above?
It’s obviously moot at this point, but your thoughts on this subject — pro or con — are more than welcome.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.