Buffalo Sabres defenseman Connor Clifton was ejected from Friday’s game in New Jersey for a hit to the head of Devils forward Nico Hischier. 

He now awaits a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for the hit.

The hit came with four minutes remaining in the first period. The Devils’ captain received a pass in the neutral zone, flipping the puck into the Sabres’ end.  Clifton, moving laterally across the ice, delivered a high, hard hit to Hischier’s head.  While the contact may have been slightly late, the contact itself is more concerning; Clifton had the ability to deliver a legal body check on the play, but chose to target the head. 

Referee Chris Rooney handed Clifton a match penalty call on the ice, then went to review the play with Halkidis.  In all match penalty reviews, the final decision is made by the on-ice officials, not the NHL’s Situation Room.

“After video review,” Rooney announced, “Number 75 Buffalo has been assessed a match penalty for a hit to the head.” 

Here’s Rule 48 – Illegal Check to the Head:

A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted.

In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered:

(i) Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.

(ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.

(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.

The referees have the option of a minor penalty or a match penalty, the latter if they felt the opponent attempted to deliberately injure his opponent. 


As Hischier was down on the ice, Clifton was challenged by New Jersey’s Ondrej Palat. Both players picked up fighting majors, with an extra two minutes to Palat for instigating. The penalties put the teams at 4-on-4 before the Devils went on a three-minute power play.   While New Jersey failed to capitalize with the man advantage, they tied the game while skating four aside.

Referee Chris Rooney also offered up some advice to New Jersey’s Kevin Bahl during the stoppage. 

“I don’t like that hit,” said the Devils’ Erik Haula. “I just hope that he has a fast recovery. Everyone can see that it catches him pretty good. Hopefully he’ll get some rest now, have a fast recovery because we’ll need him.”

Hischier left the game for evaluation but returned for the second period. He was held out ‘for precautionary reasons’ per head coach Lindy Ruff and missed the third period.

We’ll see if Clifton misses any time – or money – as a result of the play when Player Safety hands down their verdict.


The New Jersey Devils went on to defeat the Buffalo Sabres 5-4.  Referees for the game were Chris Rooney (#5) and Beau Halkidis (#48); linespersons were Caleb Apperson (#77) and Devin Berg (#87).