Buffalo Sabres defenseman Connor Clifton has been suspended two games for an illegal check to the head of New Jersey Devils captain Nico Hischier.
The hit came with late in the first period of Friday’s game in New Jersey. Hischier received a pass in the neutral zone, flipping the puck into the Sabres’ end. Clifton, moving across the ice, delivered a high, hard hit to the head of the Devils captain.
Referee Chris Rooney handed Clifton a match penalty call on the ice, then went to review the play with fellow referee Beau Halkidis. In all match penalty reviews, the final decision is made by the on-ice officials, not the NHL’s Situation Room.
The referees confirmed the match penalty via review. Now the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has taken another look and issued a two-game game. From the league’s ruling:
As the video shows, the Devils bring the puck up ice and Hischier moves toward the wall as a passing option, with Clifton pressuing from center. Hischier receives a pass from a teammate and one-touches it into the Sabres’ zone. After he does, Clifton finishes a high, hard check that cuts in front of Hischier’s core, making his head the main point of contact on a hit where such head contact was avoidable. This is an illegal check to the head.
It is important to note that both elements of the Illegal Check to the Head rule are satisfied on this play.
First, the head is the main point of contact. as Clifton’s shoulder makes direct contact with Hischier’s head, and it is the head that absorbs the majority of the force of the check.
Second, the head contact on this play is avoidable. Clifton mistimes this hit slightly, choosing an angle of approach that cuts across the front of Hischier’s body, missing his core and picking his head. If Clifton wants to deliver this hit, he must stay low and choose an angle that hits through Hischier’s shoulder and core, rather than one that makes the head the main point of contact.
As a refresher, here’s Rule 48:
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.
Clifton is eligible to return to the Sabres lineup when they host the Philadelphia Flyers on November 3.
He forfeits $34,722.22 in salary as a result of the suspension. The Sabres blueliner recently inked a three-year contract worth $3.33 million per year.