Fraser: Del Zotto certainly doesn't deserve a suspension

Kerry Fraser
4/8/2013 3:25:02 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry Fraser wants to answer your emails at!

Good Morning Kerry,

As an avid Penguins fan, I was extremely livid while watching the 3rd period between the Penguins/Rangers on Friday night.  Michael Del Zotto was skating towards the back of the net and James Neal was chasing him from the back.  Del Zotto clearly looked over his left shoulder and saw Neal's presence.  He then stuck his right elbow up and right into Neal's face.  James was knocked out cold and was down on the ice, then left the game and did not return.  This was a very obvious hit to the head, and was intentional as the video replay shows Del Zotto looking over his shoulder to see that Neal is right there.  I would normally give the refs the benefit of the doubt as they can't see every little thing that goes on, but the puck was right there, so at least one of the refs must have been looking at the players going for the puck.  How in god's name is this not at least a 2-minute penalty?  Then the next day I read an article on the Penguins website that states that Del Zotto will not be suspended, and will not even face a hearing.

For a team already missing Crosby, Letang and Martin, now another big star could be out for a while, and Del Zotto gets to keep playing scott-free.  No penalty, no suspension, nothing.  He is basically rewarded for a dirty hit.  No wonder headshots will never end in the NHL.  If you can get away with it, why not do it?  Where is the consistency?  I am so confused as to what is and what isn't a penalty/head shot.  Out of approx. 7 billion people on the planet, these are the best of the best that can be found to referee hockey games?  Wow!

Scott Oxner
Dartmouth, NS


This was certainly a missed elbowing minor penalty at the time on the ice. The referee on the goal line was primarily responsible to make this call, which occurred in and around the action of the puck.  The ref failed to do so because he pulled back and retreated deep into the opposite corner and above the goal line which prevented him from gaining the proper sight line to see the play and make a call. The back referee would have been in a straight line to the play and most likely had an obstructed view looking, at the very least, through James Neal's back.
Michael Del Zotto set himself up to contact James Neal with a left shoulder check. Neal threw on the brakes and made a sharp cut behind Del Zotto to avoid the hit. Del Zotto immediately recognized Neal's avoidance tactic and squared and elevated his body back toward his opponent for a reverse hit. With his eyes focused away from James Neal, Michael Del Zotto extended his right arm and threw it back at the last second to make himself bigger in an effort to contact/check his opponent.  The quick alteration in both of their body positions combined with Del Zotto throwing his arm blindly back caught Neal in the face.  This was a quick reflex reaction by Del Zotto and in no way malicious or a "flying elbow" as was described by the on-air broadcaster.

It is most unfortunate that James Neal sustained a concussion on the play and will not accompany the Penguins on the next three games of their road trip.  Beyond a minor penalty for elbowing, which should have been assessed by the referee, Michael Del Zotto deserved nothing more and certainly not a suspension from the Player Safety Committee. While Del Zotto intended to make contact with Neal, there was no deliberate attempt to target the head of his opponent and accidental contact resulted, which unfortunately resulted in an injury to James Neal. We wish him a speedy and full recovery.

Injury does occasionally result from accidental contact. The hockey community lost a dear friend in Wade Belak in September of 2011. I was involved in an accidental collision with Wade when he was a member of the Calgary Flames that caused him to miss two games as a result of the whip lash and a slight concussion he suffered on the play.

Wade was skating hard along the boards near the red line where I was standing when play was whistled stopped. Wade did not see me standing in this position and continued on a collision course. Just prior to contact I went vertical, braced for the hit and turned my left arm straight down and stiff as a board. My 'tricep' muscle (just above my elbow pad) caught Wade on the bridge of his nose and staggered him. He meandered back to the bench like a wounded deer and was unable to return to action. Wade missed the next game in Calgary (which I also worked) as a result of the whip lash and slight concussion he sustained from the unexpected contact he received in our collision. Wade Belak later told me how much 'razing' his teammates gave him since he was their tough guy and got knocked out by a little referee!

Wade Belak was a terrific guy and he is dearly missed.

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser is an analyst for the NHL on TSN and That's Hockey 2Nite on TSN2. As one of the league's most recognizable senior referees, he's worked 1,904 NHL regular season games and 261 playoff games during his 37-year career.

Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at!

You can also follow Kerry Fraser on Twitter at @kfraserthecall!

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