TAMPA — What a strange situation that developed Friday night in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which reverberated all the way down to Tampa.
As Halifax hosted Quebec at the Metro Centre, the billing was supposed to be a meeting between a pair of top Lightning prospects — Jonathan Drouin for Halifax and Adam Erne for Quebec. Drouin was selected third overall by Tampa Bay in the 2013 draft, while Erne was the Lightning’s second pick in the 2013 draft at 33rd overall.
Early in the game, Erne delivered, notching a breakaway goal less than three minutes into the contest. But he delivered in a much different way later in the game when he came in and hit Drouin from behind, knocking his head into the boards.
Drouin left the game and did not return, while Erne received a five-minute major and was ejected from the contest.
According to Halifax general manager Cam Russell, Drouin was diagnosed with a concussion.
“You always hesitate to call anything a minor concussion, because we all know how these things go, but his symptoms are fairly minor,” Russell told the Chronicle Herald. “He still has a headache, so you can never say he feels good or better, because you never know with these things. They just don’t know enough with concussions to really make any kind of a call on a timeline.’’
Drouin will go through the normal concussion protocol, which involves incremental workloads as long as he remains symptom free.
Erne, meanwhile, received no further punishment for his actions and was somewhat defensive when asked about the play after the game, accusing Drouin of taking a dive.
“He wasn’t far from the boards and I pushed him pretty hard,” Erne told Metro News. “I thought it was a dive, and I thought everybody else did, too. I wouldn’t have even gotten a penalty if he didn’t dive into the boards.”
Erne added that Drouin should have stayed on his skates and absorbed the hit.
“If he dives and goes head first he’s going to hurt himself,’’ Erne said.
The fact that Erne escaped suspension came as a bit of a surprise to many. Even Drouin’s agent, Alan Walsh, weighed in on the decision.
“The QMJHL has to assume responsibility of protecting its players from dangerous and intentional hits from behind meant to injure.’’ Walsh wrote on his Twitter account. “Any person who observes a video of the hit on Drouin can see Erne drive Jonathan face first into the glass. ...
“The QMJHL has failed in it’s responsibility to protect its players with this decision. What will it take? For a player to die on the ice?’’
The controversial play aside, there are other factors at play in the aftermath.
Drouin is expected to be a big part of Team Canada’s roster for the World Junior Championships, which begin Christmas Day in Sweden, and he is scheduled to report next week to preliminary training camp in Toronto.
Erne, meanwhile, will represent Team USA in the same tournament, and assuming both are healthy on New Year’s Eve when Canada and U.S. face off, the two will meet again.
But the fact that both players were drafted high by the same organization — and both made positive impressions during training camp in September — means there is a good chance that the two will be teammates, and potentially even line mates, in the not-so-distant future.
You have to wonder, however, how this will play out when/if these two wind up on the same team.
No doubt Drouin believes the play was dirty and uncalled for. But the fact Erne failed to take responsibility for the hit, laying the blame on Drouin by accusing him of taking a dive, can’t be sitting well with Drouin.
Hockey players have the ability to battle and fight — sometimes literally — during a game and laugh about it over an adult beverage a few hours later.
But one has to wonder if this incident between two players playing for opposing teams, yet considered to be a big part of the future of one NHL franchise, will be able to put this incident aside.
Will they be able to shake hands on it and move on, or will it be something Drouin is reminded of each time he sees Erne on the ice — whether they are wearing the same jersey or not?
It’s something worth keeping an eye on when the two report to training camp for the 2014-15 season.