Zdeno Chara 'relieved' to be cleared
"Obviously I'm satisfied and happy about it. Relieved," Chara said Thursday morning. "They looked at it and made a decision, and I respect that."
Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and a non-displaced fracture of the fourth vertebra in his neck when his head hit the partition between the benches in the waning seconds of the second period Tuesday night in Montreal. He was taken off the ice immobilized on a stretcher.
The NHL held a hearing via telephone with Chara and the Bruins Wednesday morning, and later in the afternoon the league announced that Chara would not be suspended.
Pacioretty was irate with the decision and lashed out in an intervew with TSN of Canada.
Chara said he understands Pacioretty's frustration.
"I totally understand," Chara said. "He's in the hospital so he's got the right to be emotional and I respect that. I feel bad that he got hurt, as a hockey player we all feel bad when something like that happens. Doesn't matter if it's the home team or the visiting team. I'm wishing him a fast recovery so that he can get back on the ice soon. That's all we like to do, is play hockey. When we go out there, we take risks and sometimes we get hurt. It's just very unfortunate."
Pacioretty said he's certain there was intent on Chara's part to slam his head into the partition. Chara disagrees.
"It was just a hockey play that developed. I know deep down I didn't do it intentionally," Chara said. "I said it before, it's not my style. I never try to hurt anybody. I play physical, I play hard, but that's not what I intended to do."
There is a history between these two players, but Chara claims he did not know it was Pacioretty on the play.
We know he didn't do it on purpose. It wasn't intentional. But at the same time, I understand [the Canadiens'] frustration at the other end because we've been on the other side of the coin.” -- Bruins coach Claude Julien
"No. It was the faceoff and we tried to set up a play," Chara said. "Basically, the puck went to the other side and we were racing for the puck. I had no idea he was on the ice."
Chara also said he's not going to let this latest incident affect the way he plays.
"No. I'll be still playing the same way," he said. "That's what I have to focus on. I have to play the same way."
Montreal has initiated a criminal investigation into Chara's actions, which he would not address Thursday morning.
"I got some media information on that this morning," Chara said. "But right now, I'm focusing on my game, and playing hockey. We'll see."
Bruins coach Claude Julien has been backing his player from the start. When asked what he thought of the league's decision to not suspend Chara, Julien went right down the middle with his answer.
"I'm not going to comment too much on that because no matter what your answer, there's always going to be two sides to that," Julien said. "We're supportive of our player. We know he didn't do it on purpose. It wasn't intentional. But at the same time, I understand their frustration at the other end because we've been on the other side of the coin. It's normal to be frustrated and I understand them as well."
What is frustrating Julien is the fact that this incident is escalating in Montreal with a criminal investigation against Chara underway, and also a major company, Air Canada, threatening to pull its sponsorship.
"There're still things hanging over our heads right now," Julien said. "It doesn't seem to want to disappear and those situations are unfortunate. They're not easy to deal with for anybody. It's not an easy situation because we understand that there's a player that's injured at the other end.
"We've had that happen to us and it goes past the game itself. We're talking about individuals. We don't wish that on anybody and that kind of stuff doesn't disappear overnight."
Bruins rookie defenseman Steve Kampfer was a teammate of Pacioretty's at the University of Michigan during the 2007-08 season. In fact, both players have the same agent, and Kampfer said after the Bruins' morning skate Thursday that he contacted his agent the night of the hit to make sure his former teammate was OK.
"Knowing [Pacioretty] and knowing [Chara], I feel bad for both of them because of the whole situation," Kampfer said. "From what I've heard, Max is doing well, better than anticipated, so I'm happy to hear that from him. At the same time, we're trying to move as an organization here and we're going to support Z."
Coincidentally, Kampfer is currently sidelined with a concussion (the third of his career), and while he's not comparing his situation to Pacioretty's, Kampfer is calling it a difficult situation.
"You feel for Z and you feel for Max," Kampfer said. "It's a rough situation for everyone. You never want to see anyone get hurt, especially in a hockey game, especially to the severity that happened to Max. I've gone through it and I know what it feels like to have an injury like that."
Kampfer said Pacioretty was a good teammate and a leader on and off the ice while both played at Michigan.
"He's a good kid and he means well," Kampfer said. "He's a character guy who everyone likes in the locker room. He's someone who everybody wants to be around. You always, I guess, go out around the town with him. He's a good-spirited kid. By reading comments that [Montreal players] have made, they feel the same way about him."
Despite being collegiate teammates, Kampfer and Pacioretty were involved in a scrum during the Feb. 9 game at TD Garden where the teams combined for 182 penalty minutes. During that scrum, Chara stepped in to help Kampfer.
"We talked about it before the game if we were ever in a situation like that, we'd go," Kampfer said. "I didn't think he would horse-collar me to go. Once [a teammate] sees something like that, obviously Z is going to jump in. At the same time, [Pacioretty] is a good player and he's going to be a great player. Right now we all hope and pray he's going to get better and slowly but surely he'll get back on the ice."
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.