Mason Wilgosh is not going to change the way he plays hockey.
The rookie forward with the UPEI Panthers was suspended for 12 games for a Nov. 30 hit against Acadia Axemen defenceman Chris Owens. An Atlantic University Sport judiciary committee upheld the ruling in a decision announced
“I’m not going to change the way I play just because I got this suspension. I know I didn’t do anything wrong,” Wilgosh told The Guardian Sunday. “If I get an opportunity to hit someone clean like that again, I’m going to. It’s part of the game and every hockey player knows that.”
The conference called the play a hit to the head while UPEI and Wilgosh disagreed. Video of the hit is now on www.theguardian.pe.ca and there are people on both sides of the debate.
Wilgosh said he feels the conference is trying to make an example of him.
“I know every league . . . is trying to crack down on the head checks and that’s right, but I don’t think that they should be going overboard just on hits when people are injured,” he said. “I didn’t hit him in the head.”
Wilgosh’s father Wes, who owns the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Selkirk Steelers, agreed.
“Yes, we have to protect (players from) head injuries, but how do you do that in a contact sport?” he asked. “What we do is make scapegoats, Mason being one of them.”
Mason, a 21-year-old Winnipeg native, said he knew it was going to be a hard hit seconds before the play occurred.
“It was either I don’t take the body and he goes around me and I don’t play the rest of the game and my coach sits me, or I finish my check,” he said. “I made the decision to finish my check and that’s what I was taught ever since I was 11 years old when we first started hitting.”
The Panther rookie said there was no intent to injure, but to separate the player from the puck.
Owens was taken to hospital and diagnosed with a concussion.
The defenceman returned to the Axemen’s lineup Jan. 4 against UNB in Acadia’s first game after the Christmas break.
The Guardian attempted to arrange an interview with the St. John’s native, who according to www.hockeydb.com played one game for the P.E.I. Rocket in 2006-07, to speak about the hit and his recovery. The university refused and has instructed him not to comment.
“Nothing to talk about. He was the person injured. There’s no side of his story that needs to be told,” Acadia athletic director Kevin Dickie wrote in an email to The Guardian.
“The issue was done from our end weeks ago.”
Wes said he believes the suspension had more to do with the result than of the hit itself.
“We have to stop suspending people for clean hits that result in injuries,” he said.
Asked if he, as a father, is concerned that it could have been Mason in Owens’ skates, Wes said: “Without a doubt.
“That’s the intimate danger of our sport. It’s a contact sport. We play it knowing that could happen,” he said.
Mason is looking forward to Feb. 8 when he is eligible to return in the Panthers’ last game of the regular season. In the meantime, he plans to continue to stay in shape, workout with the team and keep positive.
“I’m already itching to come back,” he said.