The last time Scott Nichol collided with a Buffalo player in such a devastating manner, he took away the player's entire season.
The Sabres on Friday were feeling lucky he hadn't caused serious damage again. The agitating Nashville Predators center cold-cocked Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek late in Thursday night's 7-2 rout in Gaylord Entertainment Center.
Spacek appeared to lose consciousness after the incident, which drew a nine-game suspension from the NHL on Friday. The Sabres were understandably relieved Spacek made it through Friday's practice. He should play tonight against the St. Louis Blues in Scottrade Center.
Spacek declined to comment on the suspension, which will cost Nichol $25,267 in salary.
"I'm a little sore, but that's what happens," Spacek said. "I really don't have any comments. Maybe I would if I got hurt I would have something to say. No concussion, nothing broken. I saw the hit on TV and feel pretty lucky."
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was pleased Spacek had escaped injury and that the league had made such a dramatic statement days after the NBA doled out harsh punishments for an on-court brawl.
"We've seen these types of punches in our game that have done serious damage," Ruff said. "The message has to be strong. Maybe we got through it OK this time, which we're thankful for, and Scott should be thankful Spacek's all right, too.
"Nine games is severe. You just hope it sends a message. I'm not a guy for life sentences, but what he did was irresponsible and reckless."
Nichol, a former Sabre, delivered a check that gave center Tim Connolly a concussion, taking away his 2003-04 season.
"First, I offer my apologies to Jaroslav Spacek and am thankful that he was not hurt," Nichol said Friday in a statement released by the Predators. "I have great respect for the game and my fellow players, and in the heat of the moment last night, I lost my cool and reacted emotionally to being fouled. I am not proud of my actions, but I take full responsibility and accept the consequences.
"I also apologize to my teammates, coaches, the organization and Predators fans."
Ruff refused to consider the thought of Spacek being seriously hurt. Todd Bertuzzi ended Steve Moore's career when he sucker-punched Moore from behind and tackled him in 2004.
"You don't even want to go there because it wouldn't be a nice thought," Ruff said.
Thursday's sequence began when Spacek steered Nichol into the goal cage with 4:39 left and the Sabres comfortably ahead, 5-2. Nichol crashed hard into the post, jolting the net off its pegs.
Spacek was looking down ice when Nichol got up and released a bareknuckle blast to Spacek's jaw. Nichol then grabbed Spacek's collar, thrashed him back and forth and yanked him to the ice. A full-scale donnybrook erupted, with Sabres goalie Martin Biron pumping his fist into the back of Nichol's head.
"This was not a premeditated situation where he went across the ice to go after somebody," said Predators General Manager David Poile, a member of the NHL rules committee that establishes suspension guidelines. "What angered him, what set him off, was a dangerous play by Spacek. Scott crashed into the net and got hurt on the play.
"You can't take the law into your own hands, but that is part of Scott Nichol's game. He crossed the line. He is very apologetic for it."
Spacek said he doesn't remember what happened after he got punched. When asked if he lost consciousness, he said, "No, not really."
Nichol was ejected, putting the Sabres on a power play for the rest of the game. They scored two goals.
Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere was reminded of the open-ice hit Nichol, then with the Chicago Blackhawks, made on Connolly in a 2003 preseason game. Connolly had just taken a shot in the slot and was vulnerable when Nichol blasted him with an elbow to the jaw.
"One thing I know is that it's the same guy who almost ended Tim Connolly's career," Briere said. Nichol "was just out there to end somebody's career. It was the same thing again [Thursday] night. It's sad, but it seems to be following him.
"The game is out of hand. There's absolutely nothing to prove there. You don't prove you're tough when you sucker-punch somebody in a 5-2 game."
Because the collision with Connolly occurred in a neutral-site exhibition, there weren't good replays of what transpired. But Briere recalled the knockout blow as being dirty because it was gratuitous.
Despite Nichol's run-ins with the Sabres over the years, Ruff remains a Nichol fan. The Sabres drafted him in the 11th round in 1993. He played five games for the Sabres before moving on to the Calgary Flames, Blackhawks and Predators.
"He snaps, which is a bad thing sometimes where he doesn't control his actions," Ruff said. "But he plays the game hard and you love the way he plays, but he's going to have to be accountable for what happened."