The message is clear. Hits to the head, even accidental blows, won't be tolerated in the IIHF World Under-20 Hockey Championship.
It's a lesson Zack Kassian learned the hard way Wednesday and will be reminded of over and over again as he helplessly watches his Canadian teammates' big game against Sweden on Friday afternoon at HSBC Arena from the stands.
Kassian sat out Canada's 10-1 rout of Norway on Wednesday after receiving a five-minute match penalty and game misconduct for blasting the Czech Republic's Petr Senkerik in the neutral zone during Tuesday's triumph at the arena. The penalty carried an automatic one-game suspension with the IIHF having a 24-hour window to review and determine if further penance was required.
IIHF Single Disciplinary Judge Dan Marouelli did, giving the Sabres prospect an additional one-game suspension for the thunderous hit near the chin that resulted in the Czech defenseman being wheeled off the HSBC Arena ice surface.
Marouelli stated in an IIHF release that dangerous hits aren't just those to the head but to the neck and other unprotected areas as well and are defined as blows to "that part of the body above the collarbone and shoulder pads."
That means Kassian, a key member of a Canadian power-play unit that entered Wednesday clicking at a 7-for-11 rate and finished 0-for-3 against the Norwegians, will miss the heavyweight showdown with the unbeaten Swedes that will determine which team receives a bye into Monday's medal-round semifinal clash.
"I knew I was going to get the one game but I couldn't believe it," Kassian told The News late Wednesday night after he learned he'd be suspended an additional game. "Obviously in a short tournament like this you want to be a part of the team and you definitely want to be in the game. It's a big game on New Year's Eve and I can't be apart of it so it's disappointing but got to move forward, . . and be ready to help my team in the medal round."
Kassian appeared to just follow through on a check an instance after Senkerik made a pass, any contact to head incidental.
The unbeaten Canadians vow not to change their aggressive physical approach (and they didn't Wednesday) even though their lineup has been tweaked due to the Kassian suspension and injuries to two others.
The absences didn't affect Canada against Norway as Los Angeles Kings prospect Brayden Schenn had four goals and an assist to increase his tournament-leading points total to 12. Captain and defenseman Ryan Ellis finished with three assists to become the all-time top scoring defenseman in the tournament's history with 23 points -- breaking the career mark of 21 previously set by former New York Ranger and Edmonton Oiler Reijo Ruotsalainen.
That could change Friday, especially if foward Jaden Schwartz and defenseman Calvin de Haan also aren't available.
Kassian had 15 goals and 48 points in 25 games with Windsor before joining Canada for its gold-medal quest. He had a goal and assist in wins over Russia and the Czechs.
Ellis, Kassian's teammate with Windsor of the OHL, said it'll be tough losing a player like Kassian for basically a third of this short tournament, especially since Kassian seems to be developing into the power forward Sabres fans have wished they've had on their team for years.
The IIHF also gave multiple-game suspensions to Slovakia's Peter Hrasko and Marek Marincin after they leveled a pair of U.S. players with blows to the head Tuesday. Marincin will miss the next four games, while Hrasko is out for three.
Canadian players, including Sabres prospect Marcus Foligno (one goal, one assist) drilled four Norway players inside a 40-second span in the game's opening two minutes before Casey Cizikas began the offensive burst.
Foligno believes that Kassian's past may have been taken into consideration with the suspension, although Kassian wouldn't say if it influenced Marouelli. Kassian missed 20 games last season after being suspended by the OHL for blindsiding and concussing Barrie's Matt Kennedy with a violent shot to the head.
"You get guys that develop a habit around the league for dirty hits. Zack might have gone over the line a couple of times but it doesn't mean he's going to be the offender that he's been in the past," Foligno said. "We all looked at the hit and thought it was a little bit cleaner than they portrayed but at the same time Zack's a big boy. When [he] hits someone, it's going to end up in a rough cause."