David Koci's high hit on Mike Green upsets Washington Capitals

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 17, 2009

VANCOUVER -- Mike Green was back on the ice with teammates Wednesday, less than 24 hours after being driven headfirst into the end boards during the Washington Capitals' blowout victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

Although the 24-year-old defenseman escaped serious injury, the hit may stoke the debate about the growing problem of shots delivered to the head of players in vulnerable positions.

"It was a good example of what is wrong with the game," Washington General Manager George McPhee said from the stands at GM Place, where the Capitals were practicing ahead of Friday's game against the Vancouver Canucks. "It's a contact game, but there are just some hits, like that one, where you've got a guy who can hardly play who is smashing guys' heads against the glass because that's what he's supposed to do."

McPhee was outspoken on the subject when the league's general managers met in Toronto last month. The group decided to form a subcommittee to examine head shots and to revisit the issue in March. In the meantime, the league's hockey operations department is gathering statistics and video examples to be presented to the general managers at their next meeting.

"We're not sure how to attack it yet," McPhee said. "But we're going to discuss predatory hits, hits when players are vulnerable, and touch on players being more careful around the boards."

McPhee said he and his colleagues are not aiming to crack down on hitting and take the physical element out of the game. They simply want to eliminate the dangerous ones such as the one David Koci made on Green.

"We all love nice clean, solid hits when a guy is skating with the puck and he puts his head down and you catch him in open ice," McPhee said. "We love those. Rubbing players out along the boards. Wearing guys down with hits. That's fine. But targeting heads and hitting to hurt like that, to me, it's not unlike the progression of obstruction. It happens a little, little bit and it gets worse every day. It's just time to take a look at it and say has it gotten by us a little bit and are we excepting things, allowing things that 20 years ago we never would have allowed?"

The Capitals were ahead 5-0 when Koci lined up Green. The rugged winger, who averages 3 minutes 7 seconds of ice time per game as opposed to Green's 24:49, gathered speed, then delivered a shoulder in between the neck and shoulder blade area of Green's jersey. The defenseman, who had just played the puck behind the goal, did not see Koci coming and his visor smashed into the seamless glass at Pepsi Center.

Green, who had to be helped off the ice, was knocked woozy and left bleeding above his left eye. He did not return for the third period.

Koci was assessed five minutes for boarding, five minutes for fighting after being engaged by Green's teammate John Erskine, and a game misconduct. Because Koci was ejected, he was fined $200 and the play is subject to automatic review by the league. But as of Wednesday night, the league had yet to announce any disciplinary action against the Avalanche enforcer.

After the game, Coach Bruce Boudreau called Koci an "idiot." He did not soften his stance a day later.

"His shoulder hit Mike's head," Boudreau said. "It was a head shot in my mind all the way -- and from behind to boot. A similar incident happened in the [Ontario Hockey League] in October and the kid got banned for life. There's no way [Koci] would have been on the ice if the score wasn't 5-0 at the time."

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