Hockey January 14, 2020


It has only been a couple of days since Zack Kassian threw Matthew Tkachuk around like a ragdoll. The spirited incident may have resulted in a two-game suspension for the Edmonton Oilers winger, but the Calgary Flames pest has received a lot of backlash.

The support for Kassian from experts, players, and the public (besides Flames fans) proves that, despite the suspension and the loss on Saturday night, Kassian is winning the battle against Tkachuk.

Respect for Kassian Elevates After Tkachuk Refuses to Honour “the Code”

Here’s a recap of the infamous incident: As several writers and observers have noted, Tkachuk clearly saw Kassian behind the net, skated from above the goal line and hit him. The 22-year-old wasn’t going for the puck, his purpose was to agitate the Oilers’ forward. Calculated? Yes. Timely? Sure. A clean hockey play? No. 

Tkachuk’s refusal to fight and finish the old-school play that he started highlighted his cowardice. Several former NHL players and analysts have blasted Tkachuk since the conclusion of Saturday’s Battle of Alberta. Two phrases that keep popping up: “The code” and “turtling”

One hockey writer, Brad Kurtzberg wrote the 15 unwritten rules of the NHL in 2012. One rule read “don’t turtle.” He penned: “Turtling is when a player initiates a fight and then covers up like a turtle going into his shell without actually throwing a punch. This move is considered [dishonourable].”

The NHL may be moving past fighting, but the backlash Tkachuk has faced online proves that not “turtling” is still crucial to the “the code”. Rob Tychkowski, a writer for the Edmonton Sun, tweeted, “More and more voices from around the NHL are having their say. Nobody respects a player who is a predatory hitter one minute and a turtle the next.”

While #turtleofalberta takes off on Twitter, Kassian continues to gain respect. He may have been suspended for two games and the Oilers may have lost the game due to Tkachuk’s antics, but Kassian has walked away with a lot of support. 

I doubt Tkachuk will be able to get into any player’s head on Jan. 29, in the next installment of the Battle of Alberta; the Oilers will be ready to keep the sneaky turtle in his shell. Let’s hope this exposure and backlash serves as a reminder to the Oilers.

Kassian Is Much More Than a “Fourth-Liner”

Remember when your parents used to grab you by your wrists and spin you around in the air? That was fun. I wonder if Tkachuk had fun spinning around in the “fourth-liner’s” oh-so-mighty-and-scary grasp. 

Two years ago, Tkachuk refused to fight Kassian because he didn’t want to get tangled with a fourth-liner. This time around, the Oilers’ forward questioned why Tkachuk wouldn’t fight him: 

“It’s sad because he’s a pretty good player, but he’s a p—-, to be honest. Straight up. That’s the definition of it. Wouldn’t fight me two years ago. Said I was a fourth-liner. Now, I have 13 goals. What’s the excuse now? You know what I mean?” (from ‘NHL rules Tkachuk’s hits were clean, but league wants a word with Kassian’, Toronto Sun – 1/12/20).

Zack Kassian Edmonton Oilers
Zack Kassian, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Kassian’s right. He’s been a consistent component of the Oilers’ first line alongside Connor McDavid. The forward’s feisty play, paired with his bursts of speed, ability to fight for the puck in the dirty areas, and his 13 goals prove that he’s no longer fourth-line material. 

But Tkachuk’s post-game comments after Saturday’s contest confirm that he still sees Kassian as a typical fighter. He said: “If [Kassian] was a different type of player, maybe [I would have]. Maybe somebody closer to me out there.”

What does he mean by, “maybe somebody closer to me”? Kassian, 6-foot-3 and 211 pounds, has 13 goals and plays on the first line. Tkachuk, 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds, has 15 goals and plays on the second line. By those standards, they seem pretty close.

Kassian may have more experience fighting but, this season, they have similar roles, similar numbers. The bottom line: you can’t drop questionable hits on a player and cover your face when he drops his gloves. Tkachuk used to have an admirable reputation as a pest, but now all respect is lost.

Matthew Tkachuk, Mikko Koskinen
Calgary Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk is stopped by Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Some may want the calculated menace on their team, but I would rather have the Oilers’ right winger on my team than the now-dubbed “Turtle.” Leon Draisaitl doesn’t want to play with him either. When asked what he would do if he had to play on a line with Tkachuk at the NHL All-Star Game, the superstar said:

“I would get off the ice.”

Get ready for the next Battle of Alberta to unfold on Jan. 29. The best part? Kassian will be back from his suspension. The Oilers’ winger may be winning when it comes to league-wide respect, but expect him to come out triumphant on the ice, too.



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