Mark Scheifele is a family man. He is a smart hockey player. He lives a ‘clean’ life. He is a Christian. He owns a pet dog and two pet goats. He is kind and even-tempered. And up until Wednesday evening, he had never been considered a ‘dirty’ hockey player.
That all changed with less than one minute left in a nail-biter between the Montreal Canadiens and the host Winnipeg Jets.
Emotions were cranked up. Fans were back inside Bell MTS Place for the first time in 450 days. It was Game 1 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With a chance to ice the game, Habs’ forward Jake Evans skated up ice and tucked a wraparound into the empty Jets’ net, milliseconds before getting absolutely tucked over by Scheifele along the goal line.
Evans was knocked out cold and later stretchered off the ice. Montreal players swarmed Scheifele before he was eventually led down the Jets’ tunnel, seemingly bewildered.
On Thursday, Scheifele had a suspension hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Director George Parros and Co. threw the book at the Jets’ top centreman, ultimately handing out a four-game ban for his actions.
On Friday morning, Scheifele faced the music for over 16-minutes worth, being peppered for questions by reporters on both sides of the matchup. To which, the well-spoken forward responded admirably, owning his actions – albeit in innocence – while also speaking highly of his opponents and casting his well-wishes on the injured Evans.
“I’m more in shock than anything,” Scheifele said of his emotions following the check. “I didn’t think it was a bad hit, because my intentions are to try to negate a goal. I’m coming back to try to cut him off at that post. I don’t vault myself at him, I don’t leave my feet, I try to keep my elbow in, I don’t extend, I don’t vault, I don’t go upwards, I try to stay nice and compact. I’m trying to negate a goal. I’m trying to give our team a chance to win.”
Opening his availability with a word of hope and well-wishes to his fallen opponent, Scheifele showed his character in adding that his continued thoughts and prayers were with Evans and his family through this time.
“I think first and foremost before we can talk about anything, the No. 1 thing is Jake Evans’ health,” he said. “I reached out to a couple of their guys and I hear he’s doing well. He didn’t have to go to the hospital, which is good news. First and foremost is his health and how he’s doing. I pray for a quick and speedy recovery for him, and I just hope he’s OK. I hope for a speedy recovery and I’m praying for him.”
Paraphrasing from Tim Tebow‘s book, Scheifele spoke of what he called “strong, positive words” from a number of Montreal players following the game and over the past 24 hours.
“You never want to be remembered for your accolades, awards or what it is, you want to be remembered for the impact you have on people,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always prided myself on, that’s what my parents have always prided me on. I know the guys on their team know who I am, know the person I am and they know my intent. For Gally to say those words, especially in the media and even more importantly to me, it means a tremendous amount. I’m very thankful that there are such great guys in this hockey world that will reach out and know the person you are. That means a lot to me. I pride myself on being someone that respects the game and respects every single guy on the ice. I hope people continue to think that.”
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Unfortunately for Scheifele, many online comments of hate have already been directed at him. The 28-year-old says that he can handle the punishment and hatred, but sometimes it goes deeper than just surface-level.
“I could(n’t) care less about people saying things about me,” he said. “I’m a big boy, I can handle it. I signed up for this. That’s what you put yourself in this situation for. The media scrutiny, whatever that is, I can handle that. But to put my parents, my brother and sister, my loved ones, through that is completely unacceptable. In a society where you can hide behind a keyboard, that is the problem. I can handle the criticism. I got suspended four games. I got held accountable. But there’s no right to go after my parents, to go after my loved ones. That’s completely unacceptable. But that’s our society nowadays. It’s bad to say but that’s our society. I can handle it.”
His coach, Paul Maurice, who may know Mark better than even his family at this point, knows Scheifele and his family have been subject to online hatred and says there is no place for that behaviour.
“My understanding is that Jake Evans is going to be OK,” Maurice said. “That’s prime, No. 1. That’s the most important thing. But attacking a man’s family because you’re cheering for the other team is silliness. But let’s not introduce those people or the fact that you understand that all the players are tested all the time, that Mark Scheifele’s about the cleanest-living man I’ve ever met in my life.”
Although able to appeal his four-game ban, Scheifele says he will not, as he doesn’t believe the system is designed to help the player in his shoes. He will now quietly sit pat and cheer on his teammates as they continue making a push in the second round.