Niagara Gazette

Sports

December 5, 2011

Sabres still hopeful Preds' Tootoo will be banned for Miller hit

BUFFALO — Speaking in a normal tone two days after his animated 40-second, “It’s a joke” rant, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff on Monday again called for the NHL to suspend Nashville Predators pest Jordin Tootoo for leveling Ryan Miller in his crease during the goalie’s return from a concussion.

Tootoo had a phone hearing with discipline czar Brendan Shanahan at 5 p.m. Monday. No ruling has been announced yet.

On Monday, prior to the hearing, Ruff said that since Tootoo didn’t speak with Shanahan in person, any suspension wouldn’t exceed five games.

“In my eyes, is that a big message? It’s OK,” Ruff said inside the First Niagara Center.

Instead, Ruff, who’s seen opponents run his star goalie in his last two starts, wishes the NHL would take a page from a different league. The NFL suspended Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh two games last week for stomping Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving.

“That’s what amounts to one-eighth of our season, a 10-game suspension,” Ruff said. “I think they do it right. I think the message is, ‘We’re not putting up with this stuff.’ I think we need a strong message. Is five strong enough? I don’t know.”

Miller, meanwhile, wasn’t sure if the league would punish Tootoo. After Boston’s Milan Lucic barreled into him as the two chased a loose puck Nov. 12, Miller and the Sabres called for a suspension, even announcing the netminder had a concussion, a fruitless attempt to get Lucic banned.

“Part of me wants to move on and say, ‘Guys are going to drive the net.’ Another part of me is just like, ‘First game back is a little bit fishy,’” Miller said. “But I’d like to see something just come of it so we can kind of move past this where guys have to think twice at least. History kind of shows once you do make some kind of judgment you do make guys think twice.”

Opponents could think twice about running Miller again following the Sabres’ quick and heavy response to Tootoo. After an embarrassing incident in Boston in which no one responded to Lucic in any meaningful way, the team rightfully endured scads of criticism and questions about its toughness.

In their 3-2 win in Nashville, however, every Sabre on the ice, including Miller, went after Tootoo, igniting a melee. Miller began pummeling the winger down on the ice.

“I don’t really think he probably felt them too much,” Miller said about the punches he threw with his blocker. “ ... You get fired up in that moment. You don’t want someone to take advantage of you.”

Tootoo, who hit Miller at full-speed, explained the hit to the Nashville Tennessean: “I obviously did my best to jump out of his way. When you’re going that fast and you get a little nudge (from Christian Ehrhoff) from your back right on your hips, in that split second it changes a lot of momentum. I tried to leap out of the way. If I wanted to bury him my feet would be planted and I would be in a hockey stance.

“You have no control. I can’t see what he’s going to do. I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. It’s a hockey play.”

While Tootoo earned 15 penalty minutes and an ejection, the Sabres, thanks to the 14 minutes Paul Gaustad got, only enjoyed a one-minute power play. Gaustad (upper body) was also injured and is out Wednesday against Philadelphia.

But the fierce reaction sent a message. Miller said “everyone’s on the same page here.”

“There was four of us in there before there was any of their guys,” he said. “It made for a fun little melee for everybody to talk about. It’s part of the game. Guys get fired up. Things are going to happen. I was happy that from that moment we could play hockey and pull off a win.”

Still, Ruff was furious with the hit, saying Saturday, “What happened in the game is a joke. It’s a joke. All it does is just prove the fact right that when I said it was open season (on goalies), it appears it is open season.”

Naturally, after missing nine games, a “sense of shock” accompanied watching Miller get run again in his first start back, Sabres forward Matt Ellis said.

“It was like, ‘Did that really just happen?’” Ellis said. “I think probably as players, as fans, as coaches and media you’re all sitting there, ‘Really? It’s the first game.’ But I thought we responded well.”

The hubbub about Tootoo overshadowed Miller’s strong 32-save performance. The former Vezina Trophy winner, who has recently endured a career-worst slump and been the subject of trade rumors, gave his best performance in six weeks.

“As the game went on he looked more and more comfortable,” Ruff said. “I thought he started off a little bit trying to feel pucks. But you could see he was into it, he was aggressive on some plays. He read some plays really well. He pitched a real good game for us.”

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