Mackenzie Blackwood (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
Mackenzie Blackwood of the Barrie Colts was suspended eight games for a vicious slash last Sunday, but that will not stop him from still playing in the World Juniors, then picking up with the Colts when he gets home.
As we all know, Mackenzie Blackwood, a 19-year-old goaltender for the Barrie Colts, did a really impetuous and ill-advised thing a week ago today, when he essentially used his stick as a battle axe on an opponent. It earned him an eight-game suspension, two of which will be served in the first two games of the World Junior Championship.
The subject of the stick attack, Danny Desrochers of the Sudbury Wolves, was not injured on the play, but any player who puts a uniform on in the Ontario Hockey League does so knowing full well that commissioner David Branch has absolutely no tolerance for gratuitous violence and comes down very hard on offenders.
Your trusty correspondent is not here to debate whether or not an eight-game suspension for that particular action was warranted. What sticks in my craw, however, is the fact that for a guy who tomahawked an opponent and is supposed to be paying such a steep price for the indiscretion, Blackwood is actually hardly being punished at all.
Blackwood is still allowed to represent his country in the upcoming World Junior Championship, albeit after sitting out the first two games of the tournament. He is allowed to play in Canada’s pre-competition games in Finland. And here’s the kicker, his suspension includes the five Barrie Colts games he’s missing while he’s attending Canada’s World Junior camp leading up to the tournament, five games he would have missed anyway.
Something stinks here, because in reality, Blackwood is receiving a three-game suspension for something that is supposed to be eight. The incident happened last Friday and Blackwood sat out the first game of his suspension Sunday afternoon before going off to the World Junior camp. He’ll miss Canada’s first two games of the WJC, one of which he likely would have played and the other backed up, then goes along his merry way playing the rest of the WJC and will be available to the Colts when he returns from Finland.
That’s a travesty. Either Blackwood should be required to sit out the World Juniors or he should have to serve his entire suspension for OHL games. As it stands now, the suspension is so inconsequential that it’s laughable. Of course, there is precedent for this when it comes to elite players. Jonathan Huberdeau was suspended four Quebec League games in 2012-13, but they coincided with the Canadian camp leading up to the World Juniors and the suspension actually turned out to be zero games.
It’s a little puzzling that the International Ice Hockey Federation is honoring Blackwood’s suspension because it doesn’t go the other way. In Canada’s semifinal loss to USA in the 2013 WJC, Griffin Reinhart earned a four-game suspension for highsticking Vincent Trocheck. As a result, he missed the bronze medal game of the 2013 tournament and the first three games of the 2014 tournament. He was not allowed to simply sit out the remainder of that suspension by missing the first three games back with the Edmonton Oil Kings, his Western League team at the time. A four-game IIHF suspension means you’re suspended for four IIHF games. Why is it not the same way when it happens in another league?
Perhaps this is a way for the OHL to save face by coming down hard on a player for a vicious slash that had no lasting consequences in terms of injuries. By issuing an eight-game suspension, Branch still comes across as coming down hard on miscreants, while Blackwood sits out three games, which some people might think would be a more appropriate suspension for what Blackwood did.
It’s all rather murky. Let’s say Blackwood was good enough to make the New Jersey Devils this season and was up with them playing sporadically. Let’s say Devils GM Ray Shero told Hockey Canada it would make Blackwood available for the tournament, but he wouldn’t be released from the Devils until after Canada played its first two games of the tournament? Would Hockey Canada still accept Blackwood? Not a chance.
So how is this any different? The bottom line is for a guy who’s been found guilty of an offense and received his sentence, Mackenzie Blackwood is getting everything his way. Oh, to be so young and talented and treated so special.