Lack of penalty call for hit on UMaine star Abbott is insult to injury

The burning question on the minds of University of Maine hockey fans today is: Will Spencer Abbott be able to play Saturday night?

Abbott, the leading point-getter in Division I hockey, a Hobey Baker semifinalist and the linchpin of the Black Bears’ vaunted first line, was injured during Friday night’s Hockey East semifinal against Boston University at TD Garden in Boston.

His status for UMaine’s first NCAA postseason game since 2007 remains up in the air after the crafty senior winger suffered a head injury when he was checked into the end boards by BU’s Sean Escobedo in the third period.

As he pursued the puck into the corner, Abbott appeared to start falling, skates first, as Escobedo applied the check. Abbott took a blow to the head from Escobedo’s arm or elbow, then had his head jerked back in the opposite direction when Escobedo wrapped his arm around the helmet as they fell to the ice.

The officials clearly blew the call by not making one.

Incidentally, they also should have whistled UMaine’s Joey Diamond, who retaliated immediately by hitting Escobedo from behind.

Yes, Abbott appeared to be slipping and may have fallen regardless. However, Escobedo contacted his head not once, but twice, on the play.

Given the increased emphasis on the prevention of head injuries in hockey and all sports, the “contact-to-the-head rouging” call should have come quickly and decisively.

Instead, while Abbott could not get to his feet, the Terriers counter-attacked and scored a goal at the other end of the ice. That was insult to injury.

With all the attention Hockey East referees pay to penalties such as “too many players on the ice,” “obstruction interference” and “embellishment,” the least they can do is protect players when their well-being is placed in jeopardy by illegal hits.

I guarantee that if Diamond had delivered the exact same hit to BU senior captain Chris Connolly on the play in question, the referee’s hand would have shot up immediately. Ultimately, it shouldn’t matter who hit whom.

Every blow to the head, whether delivered with a glove, elbow, shoulder, helmet or stick — regardless of what team the offender plays for — must be called, every time.

Because of the fast, hard-hitting nature of hockey, many injuries can’t be avoided. However, stringent enforcement of penalties involving all blows to the head should be the priority of referees at all levels of the game.

A penalty call against Escobedo wouldn’t have prevented the injury to Abbott, but it might deter him or another player from applying a blow above the shoulders the next time around.

As for Abbott, we’ll all have to wait and see if he is able to bounce back and play for the Black Bears against Minnesota-Duluth.

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About Pete Warner

Pete is a Bangor native who graduated from Bangor High School, Class of 1980. He earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He has been a full-time member of the Bangor Daily News Sports staff since 1984. Pete lives in Bangor with his wife of 35 years, Annia. They have two adult sons, Will and Paul. Pete is fluent in Spanish and enjoys visiting his in-laws and friends in Costa Rica. His hobbies including hunting, fishing and listening to jazz.