The NHL has suspended Buffalo Sabres‘ defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen for three games, the league announced Thursday. The suspension arose from a play where Ristolainen interfered with Pittsburgh Penguins‘ forward Jake Guentzel. The Sabres’ defender was ejected from the game as a result.
Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen suspended three games for interference on Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel.
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) March 23, 2017
The play resulted in an injury to Guentzel, and Ristolainen understood the call after reviewing it.
“I tried to hit him. Obviously, he didn’t get the puck so that’s unfortunate and too bad he got injured,” Ristolainen said.
At the time of the play, however, Ristolainen didn’t expect to be thrown out of the game and was unaware that Guentzel didn’t have the puck when he made the play. When watching the play, Guentzel was knocked to the ice and struggled to get back to his feet – all the while with blood visible on his forehead. Unfortunately, Ristolainen approached the hit with his back turned to the 22-year-old Penguins’ forward, which made judging the play harder on his part.
At the moment, I didn’t expect to get thrown out of the game but later on he obviously didn’t have the puck. He didn’t get it. Our player broke the play and he got injured. So, I don’t know what are the rules but it probably was the right call. I’m not aware of the rules.
This isn’t the first time that Guentzel has been on the receiving end of a hit that resulted in a suspension. Earlier this season, Brandon Manning of the Philadelphia Flyers made contact up high on Guentzel well after the puck left his stick during the outdoor game played between the Pennsylvania rivals. Manning ultimately received a two-game suspension for the play.
For Ristolainen, this is his first dealing with the Department of Player Safety in the NHL. The former eighth-overall draft pick from 2013 has been an absolute gem for the Sabres in his three seasons, posting 24 goals and 109 points in 268 games – and he’s still only 22 years old. This season, he’s scored five goals and 44 points in 74 games and has been a bright spot on a Sabres team that looks poised once again to miss the playoffs as they sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference.
For the penguins, Guentzel has been a similar gem in the lineup despite also being only 22 years old. Drafted with the 77th pick in the 2013 draft with Ristolainen, Guentzel has scored 11 goals and 25 points in 35 games this season – his first in the NHL. Guentzel has also spent time with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL this season and has posted an impressive 21 goals and 42 points with a plus-21 rating in 33 games.
Not the First Suspension of the Day
This suspension is the second made on a defenseman Thursday by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Earlier in the day, the league announced the suspension of Toronto Maple Leaf’s defenseman Roman Polak for boarding Oliver Bjorkstrand, another young star from the 2013 draft, taken with the 89th overall selection, just 12 picks behind where the Penguins selected Guentzel. It was an eventful night in the NHL on Wednesday and with some very talented 21 and 22-year-olds ending the night injured, the league acted swiftly and made sure to reprimand those involved.
While Ristolainen may not have intended to injure Guentzel, the league had to make a statement to protect its players. With an increasing number of lawsuits building up in the sports world due to concussions, any player associated with causing a head injury – intentional or not, will likely be looked at by the Department of Player Safety to make sure that the game trends in the right direction.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.