Boston Bruins forward Nathan Horton remained hospitalized on Monday night after leaving Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals on a stretcher, strapped to a backboard with his neck immobilized, following a frightening collision with Vancouver Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome in the first period.
Horton had just passed the puck when Rome came at him from the blindside, lowered his shoulder and flattened him — the kind of hit the NHL has tried to eliminate after several players have sustained severe concussions, including Bruins forward Marc Savard.
”Looking back at the hit, you say was it a dirty hit,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. ”I think what I would call it is, it was a blindside hit that we’ve talked about taking out of the game. He made the pass. It was late. He came from the blindside. … (I) say what I always say: ‘Let the league take care of it.’ We’re trying to clean that out. Let’s see where they go with that.”
NHL spokesman Frank Brown said the league would hold a hearing at 11 a.m. on Tuesday with Rome. The league is in its first full season with Rule 48, a ban of blindside hits to the head of unsuspecting opponents.
”Obviously, you never want to see any player leave in that situation,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. ”I think our whole team and myself and the whole organization hopes that he’s all right. … I don’t think that’s the hit that the league is trying to take out of the game. This is a physical game, you have big guys. Fraction of a second to decide what’s happening out there. It’s very unfortunate. You never want to see that. But this is a physical game.”
Horton crashed to the ice, apparently hitting his head on the ground, then remained there without moving while his right arm hung ominously in the air. Trainers rushed out to tend to him; after several minutes, they strapped him to a board and wheeled him off on a gurney.
Rome was called over to the penalty box, then ushered off the ice with a major penalty for interference and an ejection.
”It is a sensitive issue,” Canucks forward Ryan Kesler said. ”We hope he’s all right. It’s a fast game out there and things happen.”
Fans, who gasped at the initial hit and again when it was replayed on the scoreboard, cheered for Horton as he left the ice. The team later announced that he was sent to Massachusetts General Hospital and able to move his arms and legs; a similar message on the scoreboard was greeted with a standing ovation.
”The first time I saw was up on the scoreboard,” Julien said. ”Then I went in the dressing room between periods and I went in the clinic and asked a little bit more; it was basically the same thing. They didn’t know more than what was written there: that he was obviously moving around a little bit.”
Julien said he didn’t make an effort to rally the team around Horton, but the injury was on their minds after the first period. The Bruins scored four times in the second period and four more in the third to win 8-1.
”We talked about obviously playing for Horty,” said Bruins forward Mark Recchi, who scored twice. ”We knew it was a late hit, but we were a little more concerned about his health at that point. We know he’s doing a lot better right now and he’s doing OK at the hospital.”
The third overall pick in the 2003 draft, Horton played six years for the Florida Panthers — and never made the postseason — before he was traded to Boston last summer. He had 26 goals and 27 assists for the Bruins in the regular season and eight goals and nine assists in 20 playoff games — including two Game 7 winners.
”We lost a pretty good player,” Julien said. ”We’ll have to move some players around. Right now I haven’t really made my roster up for next game. I can’t give you that answer right now. But we’ll find solutions. We always do.”