Though Soucy will be missed, Canucks’ defence can withstand one-game suspension

The last time Carson Soucy was suspended for hitting someone named Conor in the head, it barely registered around the National Hockey League.

It was during the 2021 pandemic season in Arizona, which literally instead of just figuratively had no fans, when Soucy was playing for the Minnesota Wild and was assessed a major penalty for elbowing Coyote Conor Garland.

The NHL suspended Soucy for one game. Even Garland, now Soucy’s teammate on the Vancouver Canucks, barely remembers the incident.

Soucy’s cross-check to the throat Sunday night on Edmonton Oilers megastar Connor McDavid was a little different.

At the end of a full-throttle playoff game, part of the swirl of a fierce all-Canadian series that has the Canucks leading the prohibitively-favoured Oilers after Vancouver’s 4-3 win on Sunday, Soucy’s cross-check during a scrum after the final buzzer was the talk of the country on Monday.

The NHL Department of Player Safety’s hearing and subsequent judgement of a one-game suspension received more legal debate than the first of Donald Trump’s criminal trials in the U.S.

Soucy, a second-pairing defenceman who has been frequently matched against McDavid and fellow megastar Leon Drainsaitl, will miss Game 4 on Tuesday. Fortunately, McDavid declared himself fine on Monday and the Oilers, truly, should have much bigger concerns that avenging one dangerous play in a series that has been filled with them — both ways.

“If you can see after,” Soucy told reporters earlier Monday of the post-buzzer skirmish, “(I am) kind of just almost apologizing, like I said, that I didn’t mean to get him up that high. He obviously was pretty fired up because it looks bad, obviously, probably felt bad. But ultimately, I was just like, ‘Hey, there was no intent to get you up that high.’ Just emotions run high in those scrums at the end of the game.”

After McDavid escalated the scrum with a two-handed slash across Soucy’s legs in response to a shove, Canuck defenceman Nikita Zadorov cross-checked the Oiler from behind. McDavid’s head lowered as he fell forward, causing Soucy’s subsequent cross-check to contact the NHL’s best player in the neck and face instead of his chest.

The league announced Monday morning a $5,000 fine to Zadorov and a phone hearing with Soucy, a prerequisite to suspension. The one-game ban Soucy received for elbowing Garland three years ago is the only other suspension of his seven-season professional career.

Cross-checked in the head during Sunday’s scrum by Oiler Zach Hyman, who received no supplementary discipline from the NHL, Zadorov declined Monday to speak to reporters.

“Forty days of silence,” he claimed. “Or maybe one day.”

But Soucy faced the media and was ready to face the consequences of his actions.

“Ultimately, it’s up to them,” he said a couple of hours before the NHL ruled against him. “I respect their decision.

“Like I said, there was just no intent to get him up that high. Whatever happened that split-second was just kind of unfortunate.

“Yeah, it would suck (to be suspended) at this time, in a tight series like this, in a physical series. I know guys will step up if that is the case. But, yeah, it sucks having to watch your team.”

With Canucks Nation still howling about McDavid’s unpenalized high stick that punctured Vancouver captain Quinn Hughes’ cheek in Game 2, in which McDavid and Draisaitl each registered four points in a 4-3 Edmonton win, the Soucy incident and the NHL Department of Player Safety’s intervention brings back uncomfortable memories of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

The Canucks were halfway to what would have been the franchise’s only Stanley Cup when defenceman Aaron Rome stepped up in the neutral zone early in Game 3 and knocked out Boston Bruin forward Nathan Horton with a shoulder to the head. The hit was two seconds late.

The NHL, whose player-safety department was then overseen by the father of Bruin fourth-liner Gregory Campbell, innovatively suspended Rome for the remainder of the championship series. The Canucks were already without injured top-pairing defenceman Dan Hamhuis.

The incident was the turning point in the final, a catapult for the Bruins, who battered and bullied the Canucks, mostly with impunity, for the rest of their seven-game win. Some reporters, including from this country, derided the Canucks as “whiners” and “fakers” and called them the most dislikable team in Canada.

But the Canucks allowed themselves to become victims in that series. That won’t happen against the Oilers, regardless of how this mesmerizing Stanley Cup quarterfinal ends. 

The Canucks may miss Soucy, even if abrasive Noah Juulsen is a capable seventh defenceman ready to go into the lineup. But they will not be bullied or physically overpowered as the team was 13 years ago.

They’re leading the Oilers 2-1 with their third-string goalie, Arturs Silovs, so missing a second-pairing defenceman from an otherwise healthy blue line for one game isn’t going to buckle them mentally.

The Canucks have been the more physical team, and the more intimidating one in front of their goal. Everyone can see now why general manager Patrik Allvin rebuilt the Vancouver defence the way he did, signing free agents Soucy (six-foot-five and 208 pounds) and Ian Cole (6’1, 225) and trading for Zadorov (6’6, 248) to join Tyler Myers (6’8, 229), the only other blue-line holdover besides Hughes.

“I don’t think anyone’s saying they want to play our D-core,” Canuck winger Conor Garland said. “They’re big and they’re (physical) and then, obviously, we have a freak in Huggy (Hughes) who can beat you with his feet and is a top player in the world. We’re fortunate to have a really good crew back there that does it all. It’s fun having those guys on your side.”

As an aside, it’s also fun for people in Vancouver to see how things have changed in Boston. Bruins captain Brad Marchand, who famously used Daniel Sedin’s head as a punching back in 2011 “because I felt like it” and is one of the dirtiest and most-suspended players of his generation, is out after eating a sucker punch from Florida Panther Sam Bennett. By the way, Bennett’s action was not deemed suspension-worthy by NHL Player Safety.

“I think what we’re building here is very good,” Canuck centre Elias Pettersson said. “Whatever happens, we back each other up. I think that’s been a successful thing with what we have been doing all year. I think it shows that we care about each other.”

“To be on the winning side of things, it brings you closer,” winger Dakota Joshua said. “It brings that band-of-brothers mentality. Everybody’s got each other’s back. That’s the way we’re rolling.”