“Without a history, I didn’t expect him to get that much,” Claude Julien says about three-game suspension handed down by NHL for hit to head

Montreal Canadiens’ Paul Byron crashes face first into the Bell Centre glass after attempting a big hit on Minnesota Wild defenceman Greg Pateryn on Jan. 7, 2019. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

Claude Julien expected Paul Byron to be suspended by the NHL for his hit on MacKenzie Weegar during Tuesday night’s 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers, but the Canadiens’ head coach didn’t expect it to be three games.

Byron was given only a minor penalty for charging after he slammed Weegar’s head into the boards — leaving his feet to deliver the check — during the second period Tuesday night at the Bell Centre. Weegar left the game and didn’t return because of an upper-body injury. On Thursday, the Panthers placed Weegar on the injured-reserve list and he is also in concussion protocol.

Byron had never been suspended during his nine seasons in the NHL and has only six penalty minutes in 34 games this season.

“I’ll be honest with you, I expected something,” Julien said after the Canadiens practised Thursday in Brossard in preparation for Friday’s game against the Blue Jackets in Columbus (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio). “Because, you know what, you can’t be hypocritical. If you want your own players to be protected, you’ve got to understand that when the shoe’s on the other foot that there’s something that’s going to happen.

“Although it wasn’t malicious, it wasn’t done on purpose and he certainly didn’t aim for his head, he did hit him in the head. So we expected something personally — and that’s just personally. Without a history, I didn’t expect him to get that much but, at the same time, I respect what they do. They have to make those kind of decisions and you just hope that when it happens to your player that the same approach will be taken and create some consistency. That’s all we ask for.”

Byron had a hearing with the NHL’s department of player safety before the suspension was announced. He will miss Friday’s game in Columbus, Saturday’s game at the Bell Centre against the Philadelphia Flyers and next Wednesday’s game against the visiting Arizona Coyotes. Byron will also forfeit US$18,817 — based on his annual average salary of $1.166 million — with that money going to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

“They heard my words and my defence,” Byron said after taking part in Thursday’s practice. “Whether or not they took it, I’m not sure. It wasn’t much of a conversation. It was more or less pleading my case and trying to explain what was going through my mind — what I normally do on my forecheck and just talking about my history and how I make clean hits all the time. … They saw the evidence and made their decision.”

After the suspension was announced, Byron posted a statement on Twitter in which he said he accepted the NHL’s decision and would learn from it, adding he had no intent of causing injury. He also apologized to Weegar and wished him “all the best.”

“I was working on it all afternoon,” Byron said about his statement.

“Just judging by my conversation with the agent and watching the video of myself, I was preparing for discipline. I worked on that statement in the afternoon and went through it with my agent. Once (the suspension) came out, I posted it right away. I was a little surprised by the severity of it. But if that’s the league’s way of handling these kind of hits now, I think it’s good. We need to get rid of them in hockey and hopefully it means a safer game for the future for everybody.”





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