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Herman: The Great Aaron Rome Debate

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BOSTON, MA - JUNE 06: Linesman Pierre Racicot #65 calls for assistance for Nathan Horton #18 of the Boston Bruins after being check by Aaron Rome (not pictured) #29 of the Vancouver Canucks. (credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

BOSTON, MA – JUNE 06: Linesman Pierre Racicot #65 calls for assistance for Nathan Horton #18 of the Boston Bruins after being check by Aaron Rome (not pictured) #29 of the Vancouver Canucks. (credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

By Max Herman
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The minute Nathan Horton’s body slammed into the TD Garden ice, the social networks went all aTwitter with debate over what the NHL disciplinary committee should do with Vancouver Canucks’ defenseman Aaron Rome.

After finding himself on the wrong end of one of the most sickening collisions you’ll ever see on ice, Horton spent Monday night in the hospital with a concussion. It was revealed Tuesday to absolutely nobody’s surprise that he will not return to the series.

It’s no secret that the league has been anything but consistent when it comes to all things suspension-related. So realistically, they were bound to catch some heat no matter what they decided to do.

But taking all factors into account, it’s clear to me that Aaron Rome’s 4-game suspension was not only well-deserved, it was an absolute necessity.

I’ve heard and read all of the arguments against the suspension:

Horton should’ve been looking. Rome didn’t target Horton’s head. He didn’t leave his feet. The suspension is too long…and so on and so forth.

But to me, these kinds of alibis range from misguided to debatable to just plain incorrect. So allow me to address them one by one…

Does Horton Bear Responsibility For Not Seeing Rome Coming?

The answer is yes, but…

Yes, any player who is about to cross the opponents’ blue line would be well advised to keep their head on a swivel. But, it’s not as though Horton got caught with his head down. He was just looking in an unfortunate direction.

I’ve heard some accusing him of admiring his pass, but I can’t fault the guy for making sure his feed was on the mark considering there were two Canucks right in the vicinity.

This video replay of the hit illustrates the worst indictment against Rome. And the video tells no lies.

(From here on out, the replay I will be referencing is the first one shown on the Versus broadcast. It starts at the 0:33 mark of this YouTube video.)

Notice that the puck is already off of Horton’s stick as the replay begins. It’s not until after the puck has almost reached Milan Lucic on the wing that Rome has even begun to throw the check. Horton has enough time to take almost two full strides before impact.

If there is one thing that cannot be debated, it’s that this is a classic example of a late hit. And this of course is why the penalty called on the play was for interference.

But that’s not the only aspect of this collision that makes it something different than just a good hockey play gone wrong.

Did Rome Target Hortons Head?

This seems to be the most debated part of this whole flim-flam. But it seems to me the only reason that’s the case is because people are getting too caught up on the word ‘target.’

At face value, when you think of someone targeting something, it means they’re aiming for it. And by no means am I suggesting Aaron Rome is some thug who went out of his way just to go skull hunting on a defenseless victim – cough, Matt Cooke, cough.

But when you make the dumb decision to throw a late hit on an unsuspecting player, you have a certain responsibility to make sure you don’t cause serious injury to that player. Rome failed to do that.

As you can see in the replay, Rome’s shoulder makes impact with the side of Horton’s head knocking him clear off his feet. As Rome finishes the check, Horton’s helmet is left to absorb the thud he takes from the unforgiving ice surface. So while I can’t say Rome was trying to do it, the fact remains that he hit the dude’s head.

Concussions are a tricky thing to diagnose, but you figure Horton could be looking at a similar recovery process to the one Sidney Crosby had to go through that caused him to miss months of game action. The severity of the injury had to be taken into account when determining Rome’s suspension.

You could say it’s an eye for an eye. Horton’s series is over, and so too is Rome’s. But realistically it’s hardly an equal tradeoff considering that Horton’s heroics put him on a short list of Bruins’ Conn Smythe candidates while Aaron Rome is merely the 7th defenseman on Vancouver’s depth chart.

Did Rome Leave His Feet?

When I saw it in real time, I didn’t think he did. But again I reference the video. From my perspective, Rome launches off of his right leg and explodes through the hit, eventually resulting with both of his skates coming off the ice.

After tweeting a photo of Rome mid-hit with both feet off the ground, some argued to me that he only left his feet as a result of the impact of the check. But Sir Isaac Newton taught us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So if that were the case, then Rome would have been bounced backwards and his feet would have reversed course….

Notice in the replay that not only does Aaron’s momentum continue to go in a forward direction throughout the check, his feet even come together as if he were taking a mid-range jumper. Houston, it seems we have a launch job.

Was Suspending Rome For The Rest Of The Series Too Harsh?

Not in the least. We need to realize that after all of the video breakdown and the frame-by-frame analysis, there is a greater issue at hand here. The NHL needed to make this ruling to set some kind of model for future incidents such as this one. To this point, the league’s disciplinary rulings have been so contrary to one another, that there really is no solid precedent for any particular kind of play anymore.

So to those who say Rome’s suspension is too severe because he was given a harsher punishment than those who have been tried for similar crimes, I say this: When it’s been established that the NHL has had serious consistency issues with its suspensions, it might not be wise to use their previous rulings as the gospel on what to do about Aaron Rome.

Just as the NFL is trying to adjust their game to account for their players getting bigger, faster and stronger, so too must the NHL. In case you haven’t noticed, the sports world is FREAKING OUT about concussions and all injuries related to the brain. The NHL needs to reinforce that hits like these will not be tolerated.

Now I’m not expecting harsher rulings to eliminate dangerous collisions from the game altogether, because as we all know, stuff happens. But if it makes guys think twice before they launch themselves at another human being’s head, it’s progress.

Hits like the one we saw Tuesday night can have debilitating results. These players travel at the kind of speeds that have to be seen in person to truly appreciate, which makes the impact of these collisions feel like being in a car wreck with no air bags…and no car. My fear is that someone is going to have to die on the ice before we treat issues like this with the seriousness they deserve.

Aaron Rome is not a dirty player or a brute thug, he just made a terrible decision. And now the NHL is stripping him of the chance to help his Canucks win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. But let’s not forget that Rome was also responsible for taking that same opportunity away from Nathan Horton. So what’s not fair about that?

Email Max a question or comment: mherman@wfan.com

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