Antoine Roussel is beloved by Dallas Stars fans. In a town in which the “pest” on the team has always been beloved for their sacrifice-anything-for-the-team style of play (see: Ott, Steve), Roussel is often looked at with a “he’s a little s*it, but at least he’s ours!” mindset by many.
Off the ice, Roussel has been a face of kindness. He always stops for a photo or an autograph, and he never seems put out by Stars fans approaching him when he isn’t working. He’s active in the community in terms of charity, and has made having a cat kind of cool with pictures of his cat Menou.
On the ice, it’s a different story.
He plays with a style that does not ingratiate himself to opposing fanbases. Nobody in Dallas will ever forget the game in which Roussel was doing his Roussel thing, and then, after scoring on a penalty shot goal in Chicago, he taunted the crowd as if to say “come at me”.
He isn’t all pestiness and no hockey ability, though. He has been a solid bottom six winger (and at times top six, when needed) and can score goals. He’s been a key forward on the penalty kill since breaking into the league with Dallas – when he isn’t the one serving the penalty, that is.
But he did something today that seems to have gone unnoticed by the referees on the ice – and it seems to cross the line between “hard working/pest style” to “unacceptable in the NHL”.
You could argue “heat of the moment”. You could argue that it was done in a scrum for the puck and he didn’t know what he was really kicking at. Maybe he was losing his balance and wildly swinging his leg to try not to twist something/hurt himself/regain his balance. But all of those feel flimsy, at best.
There’s no good reason to be kicking that high in a scrum. The only thing you’re ever going to connect with is another player’s lower body. It almost looked as though he was trying to give the guy in front of him a cup check-style kick. The thing is, though, those are giant knives at the bottom of the skate. That quickly goes from a “not nice thing to do” to an “intent to injure” argument.
What if he had connected with that player’s knee and really injured him? The league would (rightfully) throw the book at him. He doesn’t have the kind of goodwill built up from his style of play to get a gentle slap on the wrist from the Department of Player Safety whenever he makes a questionable play.
I want to see Roussel play an irritating style of play. It’s fun to get under the skin of the opposition and their fans, and helps galvanize some of the rivalries on the ice against teams like Chicago. But I’d prefer he keep it above board and less these kinds of plays in the future.