By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 3, 2009
As he sat on a table near the visitor's locker room at Verizon Center after the Washington Capitals' win over Tampa Bay on Thursday night, Alex Ovechkin asked former teammate and current Lightning goaltender Olie Kolzig to tell Jamie Heward he didn't intend to hurt him when he finished his check in the third period.
Ovechkin likely won't be disciplined by the NHL for the hit in the corner that knocked Heward unconscious, but there was a definite effect on the Capitals star.
"After this [happened] I didn't want to hit any guys," Ovechkin said. "It's hard afterwards to hit sometimes. I didn't want to injure him."
Both players were pursuing the puck during the Capitals' 7-4 win when Ovechkin checked a slightly bent-over Heward into the boards, sending the defenseman's head into the plexiglass.
Heward suffered a concussion and was taken to Sibley Memorial Hospital after being face-down and motionless on the ice for more than a minute. He was released from the hospital yesterday morning, though, after testing determined there was no damage to his cervical spine, the Lightning said in a news release. There is no timetable for his return.
Lightning General Manager Brian Lawton told reporters in Tampa yesterday that he doesn't expect Ovechkin to be sanctioned by the NHL after officials told him they felt the collision was not a targeted hit to the head and that Ovechkin didn't leave his feet.
If the league does take action, it will be announced before the Capitals face the Rangers tonight at 7 at Verizon Center. Ovechkin has never been suspended by the NHL, but he has been disciplined before.
In December 2006, Ovechkin was fined $1,000 for a shoulder check that sent Daniel Brière, then of the Buffalo Sabres, flying headfirst into the boards and originally brought a five-minute penalty for boarding and a game misconduct.
There was no in-game penalty assessed after the hit on Heward, who played with Ovechkin during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons in Washington.
A high number of injuries from blows to the head early this season prompted the NHL's chief disciplinarian, Colin Campbell, to send a memo to players warning that the league "will not tolerate blows to the head that are deliberate, avoidable and illegal."
But even Heward doesn't believe that Ovechkin's hit fits that criteria.
"I didn't really ask who hit me until" yesterday, Heward told reporters once he returned to Tampa. "Once I found out it was Alex . . . he's probably one of the cleanest players in the NHL as far as being honest. He'll play hard on you, but now that I know it was him I know it wasn't intentional."
While Ovechkin was pleased to hear that Heward was well enough to return to Tampa and everyone involved seems to agree that the hit was not malicious but rather an unfortunate result of a quick-moving play, it's hard to determine how having injured a friend could ultimately affect Ovechkin's game.
"It's hard. I don't worry about it most of the time," Ovechkin said. "Sometimes hits [are] just a moment, like if you shoot the puck and it goes to ankle or wrist and maybe it's broken. You never know what's going to happen."
Capitals Note: Washington reassigned left wing Chris Bourque to the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears yesterday afternoon. The move is likely to make room for Donald Brashear, who is expected to return to the lineup after missing the past two games with a leg bruise.