One year ago today, on March 8th 2011 (we’re past midnight now but you get the point) Max Pacioretty‘s neck was broken by an absolutely brutal, devastating hit from Boston’s Zdeno Chara. On the hit, Pacioretty was shoved (and no, I’m not whining – watch the video) into the stanchion, causing him to crumple to the ice. I remember sitting there in complete silence, wondering if Max Pacioretty has just died on the ice. I’ve been a hockey fan for a very long time, but I never recall being so scared that I couldn’t speak. I watched Pacioretty, eyes closed, lying on the ice as the trainers ran out and I couldn’t help but think of his fiance, his family, his teammates who were watching him in utter and complete fear for his life.
Looking back at the clip, which I linked earlier, RDS analyst Pierre Houde’s commentary still holds true.
The hit divided the league. A significant amount of players, beyond the Canadiens dressing room, thought it was an absolutely horrible hit. As always, Bruins fans thought it was awesome to the point that they gave Chara a standing ovation in his first game back at TD Garden. Mark Recchi played doctor and accused both the Canadiens medical staff and Pacioretty of faking it. Honestly, typical classless Boston. I wasn’t proud when the Bell Centre faithful cheered Chara getting a puck in the face earlier this season, but to be honest, it’s not like it hasn’t happened at TD Garden. And to make matters worse, he wasn’t suspended for his actions, despite a large outcry.
Now, the focus of this article wasn’t going to be about the incident. Most wondering if Pacioretty would ever play the same way again, whether he would ever be fearless along the boards, whether he could ever replicate the success he was having prior to having his neck broken. Tonight, and all season, he has answered the question. He hit 30 goals for the first time in the NHL tonight, on a 3 point (2G, 1A) effort against the Edmonton Oilers. He scored the goal to make it 2-1 in the second period, and the empty netter to put the game away in the dying moments of the third. Notably, P.K Subban skated the length of the ice with an Oiler draped on his shoulders and made sure to pass the puck to Pacioretty for the relatively easy goal. That flies in the face of all the columnists who discuss P.K’s alleged personality issues. He clearly and visibly wanted to give Pacioretty his 30th goal, and P.K Subban ended the night with 3 points as well, 1G 2A.
Though this means that the Oilers get the 29th spot, tonight felt good. It was great to see Pacioretty become the player he had shown the promise of being last season before the hit. Tonight, Pacioretty has come full circle. He wants to define himself beyond the hit, and so far, he’s doing an excellent job.