Tootoo gets a break from NHL after shoving ref

BY foxsports • March 7, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nashville Predators right wing Jordin Tootoo might have narrowly avoided a second suspension this season, owing, perhaps, to some sweet-talking by his coach, along with circumstances in his favor.

With the whistle blown at the 13:19 mark of the third period Tuesday during the Predators' 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at Bridgestone Arena, Tootoo received a 10-minute misconduct for a shove to the back of veteran linesman Pierre Champoux.

Tootoo got tangled up with Kings defenseman Matt Greene, and the two began pushing and shoving. Champoux skated in swiftly to break up the two players, inadvertently striking his helmet against Tootoo’s in the process. Tootoo gave a quick retaliatory shove to the back of the linesman and was sent off.

The officials, in fact, may have exercised a good amount of discretion in the way that Tootoo was penalized. In the NHL rulebook under "abuse of officials,'' the penalty that Tootoo received falls under game misconducts, not 10-minute misconducts. Section 39.5 Part (iii) reads:

"Any player who deliberately applies physical force in any manner against an official, in any manner attempts to injure an official, physically demeans, or deliberately applies physical force to an official solely for the purpose of getting free of such an official during or immediately following an altercation shall receive a game misconduct penalty and the guidelines set out in Rule 40 — Physical Abuse of Officials are to be applied.''

The Predators also may have received a stroke of good luck in that supervisor Mick McGeough happened to be at the game. Predators coach Barry Trotz spoke with him after.

"I talked to the supervisor,'' Trotz said. "They had a supervisor at the game, and he saw the situation where the linesman actually, inadvertently, really head-butted Toots with his helmet right in the face, so your natural reaction is to push away when you get punched in the face, especially when there’s people scrumming around. So they talked about that and they asked me if I would just talk to Toots and make sure that he knew that, and so I don't anticipate anything come from it. That was their statement to me.”

In fact, while discussing replays of the incident during the game broadcast, FOX Sports Tennessee analyst Terry Crisp quipped, "Should Champoux have gotten two minutes for elbowing? Was a pretty good one.''

According to an NHL spokesperson, on-ice officials are given the lead in handling these situations. When they assess a game misconduct for "Abuse of Officials," the NHL department of hockey operations/player safety generally follows up with supplemental discipline. When a 10-minute misconduct or less is assessed on the ice, supplemental discipline rarely follows.

Tootoo said he regretted his actions.

"My initial reaction when someone hits you in the head, that's your first reaction is to protect yourself and it was a situation that happened in a split-second,'' he said. "As far as I know, it's been dealt with. That's not part of my DNA is to do what I did. It's just a reaction protecting myself. I'm deeply — I’m sorry for what happened. We just got to move on from the situation.''

Tootoo, a fan favorite whom fans salute with train whistles when he takes a shift on the ice, is having a career year in this, his eighth season in the league — all with the Predators. He has six goals and 23 assists for 29 points, already 11 more points than his previous career best. And there are 16 games remaining.

What makes him popular is the physical edge with which he plays and his willingness to fight, if necessary, despite standing only 5-foot-9 and weighing 199 pounds. The first player of Inuit heritage to play in the NHL, he has 713 career penalty minutes in 473 games.

Earlier this season, he received a two-game suspension for charging Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. In 2007, Tootoo was suspended five games for punching Dallas' Stephane Robidas in the face, a blow that caused the Stars defenseman to be removed on a stretcher.

The incident Tuesday was relatively minor in comparison. Trotz said that on Tuesday, Tootoo might have confused the linesman with an opposing player.

"You're not quite sure if it’s the opposition or whatever,'' Trotz said. "So I think it's fine and it wasn't intentional and I know that and they know that. It was just one of those heat-of-the-moment, (the linesman) came in a little too hard on the rescue or whatever and they butt heads. . . . Your first reaction . . . so I think it’s fine.''

Tootoo said he was unaware he was hitting an official.

"No, I mean, like I said, the game is so quick sometimes your brain doesn’t process quick enough for it to react,'' he said. "It’s all instincts. I'm sure everyone realized what happened there. I felt a helmet or an elbow hit my head. That was it.''

He said if he had been more aware, the incident would not have happened.

"Absolutely,” he said. "It’s the last thing I want to do is hit or hurt a referee or linesmen. The game has slowed down a little bit for me. I'm able to mentally know what’s going out there a little bit more and understand the game a whole lot better.''