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Zack Kassian took his medicine even if he didn’t like it, swallowing a two-game suspension after he felt he had to knock some sense into Matthew Tkachuk for what the Edmonton Oilers winger thought were predatory hits Saturday in Calgary.
“I would do it all over again,” said Kassian, who respected the league’s decision, but felt he had to look out for himself even if the Calgary Flames forward didn’t want to drop his gloves to fight him.
Instead Tkachuk covered up when Kassian grabbed him by the collar along the end boards after Drilling the Oilers forward for the second time in the game.
“After speaking with (George) Parros, he explained that the hits weren’t dirty so that gave me some clarity on what you can and can’t do,” said Kassian, who had a phone hearing with the head of the NHL’s Player Safety Department.
That sounds like Parros, who used to protect players as an NHL heavyweight, has given Kassian the green light to take runs against Tkachuk next time out as long as he keeps his elbows down because they’re clean in the league’s eyes.
And if Tkachuk comes at him again?
“I’ve put that in the memory bank but clear or dirty if somebody takes a run at me on my blindside…since I’ve been in minor midget (hockey) I’ve stood up for myself and my teammates. People can’t do that when I’m out there. To me those were two dangerous hits.”
So, Kassian will miss Tuesday’s home game against Nashville and the Saturday afternoon tilt with the Arizona Coyotes here, but will return to the ice for a rematch with the Flames on Jan. 29 at Rogers Place, where he may or may not be on his best behaviour, depending on how things go with Tkachuk – one of the game’s best wingers, but a player who likes to stir stuff up.
“Whether those hits were clean or not, they were predatory to me. That’s fine,” said Kassian, who watched the Predators game while Josh Archibald replaced him at right wing alongside Connor McDavid and James Neal. “I love big-boy hockey, but if you’re going to play big-boy hockey you have to answer the bell every once in a while.”
Kassian isn’t complaining about the hits as much as he is Tkachuk’s response.
“I’ve been hit like that before but two times is more than enough. If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned. He messed with the wrong guy. I don’t think he realizes we’re in the same division. I have a great memory,” said Kassian, who is making no apologies for his response to Tkachuk. “It’s not my fault the league doesn’t have many guys like me anymore to look after guys running around like that. I’ll take my two games, I’ll come back well-rested and recharged.”
He said he was overwhelmed by the support shown from other areas, not just from guys wearing the Oilers logo. Rightly so, he got roundly criticized when he whacked Sam Gagner in the face with his stick half a dozen years ago, breaking the jaw of the player who has since become his teammate, back when Kassian was playing for Vancouver.
But not this time with Tkachuk, who is a heck of a player who plays on the edge and has had seven NHL fights under his belt. But, in this case, he didn’t want to take on Kassian because he said it was a tie game late in the second period and he didn’t want to be in the penalty box with the Oilers player.
“That was the pretty cool part, I woke up the next day and had 20 text messages from guys around the league that I didn’t even know, ex-players, current players, people who work for different teams. I’m glad people have my back. I think I play a pretty honest game,” Kassian said. “If you’re going to run around like that, you have to answer the bell once in a while and he clearly hasn’t done that his whole career. If he did, he’d get a percentage of respect in the league.”
Kassian said he’s glad he’ll play the Flames on Jan. 29 here and Feb. 1 in Calgary. But if the suspension had been longer, he’d have accepted it.
“If I don’t play against him after the (all-star) break, hopefully I’m here for a long time: Next year, the year after. There’s no running away from it, eventually he’ll get his,” said Kassian, who, at the same time, certainly knows his double-minor was costly in Calgary because Elias Lindholm scored an early third-period power-play goal, which stood as the game-winner.
“I have to be a little smarter and stay on the ice,” he admitted. “Obviously, we lost the game, that’s disappointing. I’m suspended. It sucks but there’s a lot of hockey left in the season.
“I’ll sit and do my time.”
On Twitter: @NHLbyMatty
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