Prayers for Tanner Kero. Not good. pic.twitter.com/zYnhCkxSmD— Nick Alberga (@thegoldenmuzzy) December 19, 2021
Connolly is, by all accounts, a player not known for dirty plays or late hits. Stars head coach Rick Bowness would know: he’s coached him before. “I know Brett Connolly. I coached him in Tampa and he’s a great kid,” Bowness said Saturday night. “Shit happens out there, man, and that’s just hockey. Connolly would never intentionally hurt anyone so I don’t hold that against him.”
But this hit was one that should not have happened. Kero wasn’t eligible to be hit, as he didn’t have the puck — in fact, he didn’t have the puck for a while before the hit was leveled at him. He appears to have his head turned back to see where the pass by Alexander Radulov is going. He didn’t even see Connolly coming at him until the last second when his head pivots around, tracking the puck.
“These things seem to keep happening all over the place,” Blackhawks forward Dylan Strome said after the game. “It’s tough to watch. Guys have families and kids, and you never know what’s going to happen after they leave on a stretcher. We don’t hear much after that, so it’s pretty scary, guys getting knocked out on the ice. His parents are watching, I’m sure, at home, and it’s scary. I think we’re all feeling for him and hope he’s all right.”
It was very scary. I haven’t heard the arena that silent since Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench after a cardiac event on March 10, 2014. Connolly was reportedly shaken up after the hit. “He’s not that type of person. He’s not trying to do something like that or hurt somebody,” Blackhawks interim head coach Derek King said Saturday after the game. “I just saw him there and he still looks a little shaken up. I’ll have to have a little talk with him and calm him down a bit here.”
Thankfully, the Stars informed everyone that Kero was alert, responsive, and conscious after the hit. He was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons and evaluated. He posted to Instagram Sunday that he was at home resting.
On the same day, the Department of Player Safety had a hearing with Connolly and deemed this hit worthy of supplemental discipline. That ended up taking the form of a four-game suspension.
Chicago’s Brett Connolly has been suspended for four games for Interference on Dallas’ Tanner Kero. https://t.co/6g23ix1zDh— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) December 20, 2021
The part that stood out to me the most in the suspension explanation video was this part:
“From the moment Radulov turns back up ice to make a play, Kero is always directly between Connolly and the puck. Fully aware of Kero’s presence, and with a substantial amount of time to change his path, avoid contact entirely, move toward the wall to seal off the boards, or do more to minimize the impact on Kero, Connolly braces himself for impact and skates directly through his opponent. And because Kero is never close to being in possession of the puck, he is in no way braced for contact, making him substantially more vulnerable.”
Hopefully this helps signal to the league that these kinds of hits are not acceptable in the game, but the inconsistency of DoPS in not taking action when Blackhawks forward Jujhar Khaira was hit by Jacob Trouba and stretchered off the ice does not help clarify the message — at least to the general public.