Canucks fans wanted blood. Specifically, Michael Matheson’s blood.
Sure, some fans might have said they just wanted some “pushback” from the Canucks after Matheson injured Elias Pettersson: perhaps some pushing and shoving after the whistle, a legal bodycheck on the forecheck, or even a fight likely to involve more clutching and grabbing than knuckle-chucking.
But other Canucks fans: they wanted blood on the ice. They wanted Matheson to pay. They wanted retribution.
Two days later and the anger has barely subsided. A lot of that anger, however, has been redirected away from Matheson and towards the Canucks, because they didn’t deliver what many fans truly desired: bloody vengeance. Fire and destruction. Ruination and lamentation.
Instead, the Canucks seemed to be more interested in winning the game and earning two points in the standings. Blasphemy.
That the NHL got it right and suspended Matheson will do little to slake the fan’s frustration with the Canucks. The official arm of NHL justice falling on Matheson doesn’t deter the fan’s from desiring frontier justice instead. At the very least, they wanted to see the Canucks do something, to give some indication that they were angry and willing to stand up for their 19-year-old Swedish star.
Travis Green gets that.
The Canucks’ head coach held court with the media after Monday’s practice, and launched into a full four-minute statement about the incident and the team’s response to it. TSN 1040 has the full audio of his statement, as well as the follow-up questions from the media, and it’s worth a listen.
Green made it clear that he was just as upset as the fans about the play. It wouldn’t be surprising if he was even more upset than the fans. As a coach, you grow close to your players and feel responsible for them. One can only imagine that emotion is tenfold in the case of a teenager under your leadership.
“Am I mad at the play? Extremely mad. I’m really upset. I still am,” said Green. “We lost a bright young player to an injury that I don’t think was necessary. I’m pissed off right now still, talking about it, but composure is a part of coaching and it’s part of playing.”
Green talked a lot about composure and the importance of it in the context of coaching and playing the game. You could argue that the reason the incident happened at all is that Matheson lost his composure and stepped over the line after Pettersson embarrassed him on the ice. Keeping you composure is how we avoid seeing dangerous plays like McSorley on Brashear or Bertuzzi on Moore.
Green also explained the lack of response from the team in the moment.
“With Canucks fans, I understand it, the reaction after the hit,” he said. “I will say that I didn’t know what happened. None of the players on the ice knew, none of the players on the bench knew what happened.”
“A lot of our guys didn’t know at all until after the game,” he added later. “We had to find it on our iPads and look for it.
“Obviously we have the screen and iPads and the players don’t and the players are now sitting there in a 3-2 game, we’re down two centermen not long later, and we’re pushing. We’re trying to win a hockey game. And yet they also know that a young player is out and they don’t really know — it’s unfortunate. It’s brutal, to be honest.”
Green made the point that not seeing it in the moment meant that the players “didn’t have an emotional vision in their head of what happened.” It’s understandable that it might be hard to get riled up enough to go after another player on the ice when you never saw what occurred.
That’s the timeline, as Green laid it out: the players didn’t see the hit as it occurred and didn’t get a good look at it on the replay. From there, the game itself took over: they scored the go-ahead goal almost immediately, and were defending the lead for the rest of the game, with the added complication of missing two centres from their lineup. It wasn’t until after the game that the entire team got a good look at the play.
The players weren’t the only ones who didn’t see what happened. According to Green, neither did the referee.
“When I saw it on my iPad, and we got a break, I talked to the ref,” said Green. “He came over and he was honest with me, just said ‘I didn’t see it. It was late, behind the play and I apologize, more or less, but I didn’t see the play.’ When I guy says that to me, I can live with that.”
“As a coach, you need to keep composure,” he added later in reference to the referee. “I’m not going to sit there and yell at him once a guy says that to me. It might have been a different conversation if he told me that...he didn’t think it was a penalty. I probably would have had a different response.”
Green didn’t want to talk about “retribution” at all — “I am not going to comment on that whatsoever so do not bother asking me” — but some of his later comments gave some hint towards his feelings on the subject.
“This is not the times when you just start chasing people around the rink and jumping on top of people,” he said. “That doesn’t happen anymore in this league...That’s why the league has these good, young players that are fast and exciting to watch.”
“The days of tapping guys on the shoulders have long been gone and rightfully so,” he added.
Green also took the opportunity to lay out some of his philosophy on coaching, hockey, and culture.
“I have said and I stand by that: I want our team to be hard to play against,” he said. “I do. Winning teams are hard to play against and by hard to play against that means many things. That means playing fast. That means making good puck decisions, winning puck battles.
“For me, ‘hard to play against’ is a burning desire to win that comes from your group and I want our group to stick up for each other and stick together. That’s what winning cultures have and I want that in our group.”
It’s hard to argue against that. That “burning desire to win” has to come with that one other element that he mentioned multiple times: composure.
“I do want a group that will stick together and will stick up for each other at the appropriate times without being barbaric or doing something stupid.”