Capitals lose Hunter again - 4 to 6 weeks

November 30, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Just four periods after getting veteran center Dale Hunter back from a 21-game suspension, the Washington Capitals have lost him again.

On Sunday, the Capitals saw him go down on an apparent cheap shot, his legs wiped out from under him from behind by New York Ranger Alexei Kovalev's left skate. The Capitals initially thought they had lost Hunter for 10 days. Yesterday, they learned it will be from four to six weeks.

An examination by team physician Richard Grossman revealed a torn medial collateral ligament in Hunter's left knee.

"From what I saw of that play, it was one of the cheapest in hockey," said Washington coach Terry Murray. "There are two cheap shots that I think are the worst. No. 1 is taking out a defenseman while he is skating backward. The second one, and equally as bad, is what we saw last night. It was clearly the intention to take Dale Hunter down."

When Kovalev took Hunter down with 14:23 gone in the first period Sunday, there was no penalty call. Kovalev said after the game, "It was accident."

But Wally Harris, the NHL's assistant director of officiating, sent the tape of the play to the league office for review. Harris also sent tape of another play in which Capitals defenseman Al Iafrate took Tony Amonte's stick in the chin and needed 12 stitches to repair the damage.

In both cases, Harris sent the tapes because a player was injured.

Now, it is up to Brian Burke, the NHL senior vice president in charge of league discipline, to determine whether Kovalev's and Amonte's actions were deliberate, illegal acts that deserve punishment.

Burke said he looked at the film yesterday and told Capitals general manager David Poile he would make a ruling on the incident before tonight's game here at Nassau Coliseum between the New York Islanders and the Capitals.

This would have been the first meeting between these two teams since Hunter's late hit -- also described by many as a cheap shot -- on Pierre Turgeon that drew the 21-game suspension last April.

Murray called the situation "tough to swallow" after having watched Hunter go through the stress from constant criticism over the hit on Turgeon and from trying to keep in condition

without being able to practice or play with the team through all but the last three weeks of his suspension.

"He was back for little more than a game," Murray said. "But even in that little amount of time, everyone could see what he meant to us. Against Pittsburgh and in the early minutes against New York, he was the best player on the ice."

Murray described this loss of Hunter as different from the suspension, and possibly more costly.

"When he was suspended, he could work out," Murray said. "We knew he would be back. We knew when he would be back.

"With this, he can't work out, and we don't know how the knee will respond."

Poile spent part of yesterday meeting with Burke, but would not say what he would consider a just penalty -- if the league decides one is deserved.

"My views are fairly well-known," Poile said. "I don't think Dale got treated fairly last year. I don't agree with the lengths of penalties they've been handing out this year.

"But what I'm upset about is the number of games Dale is going to miss. I don't like what Kovalev did, but no matter what I think or what I say, it isn't going to change the fact that Dale is now going to be out until approximately Jan. 1."

Center Dave Poulin, who was brought to the Capitals over the summer to help fill the void created by Hunter's suspension, seemed stunned by the news of Hunter's long-term injury.

"Dale's return was just a tease of what it could mean to have him

back," said Poulin. "I've discovered what a huge part of this team he is, and I've only seen it briefly. I can see what he means. He is a much, much better offensive player than people realize, a much better passer who has a cumulative value to all the players around him who he makes better. It's not just him; it's who he affects with his feisty, emotional play. It's just a very contagious thing."

Now, it's back to finding a way to score. They've all heard it before, but before, the Caps knew help was on its way when Hunter's suspension ended. Now, for at least another month, they're on their own.

Mike Ridley, the team's top point man, was on the ice at the time of Hunter's injury, but said he didn't see the play. But he did offer an opinion on how the situation should be handled.

"They have the film, and they make the rules," Ridley said. "But their system is weird. They have guys swinging sticks at each other after a game and they get suspended four games, and those were guys who were really trying to hurt each other. So I don't know what they'll do, but I've always said if you injure someone by kicking them, high-sticking them or taking their legs out in an illegal action, that person should be out until the player he injured can come back and play. If it's six weeks or a year, that's how long they should be out."

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