Toronto na­tive Wil­son bal­ances land­ing big hits with mak­ing sure they are le­gal ones

A fine line

Toronto Sun - - SPORTS - — Post­media wire ser­vices

Af­ter ev­ery game, when Tom Wil­son is re­view­ing his shifts to grade his per­for­mance, he's also an­a­lyz­ing his hits. For each one, he asks him­self, "What were my in­stincts on the hit? Why did I make that hit?" He's de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for his phys­i­cal play, so he put that part of his game un­der his own mi­cro­scope by ques­tion­ing his de­ci­sion mak­ing ev­ery time he landed one of his sig­na­ture bone-crush­ing checks.

His re­ac­tion most of the time? "Wow, that was a great hit. It was a huge hit, but it was a great hit."

It's easy to slow down the video of Wil­son's hits and pin­point what he did wrong or right on each one. It's harder to ap­ply that same rea­son­ing dur­ing a game in real time, when Wil­son has sec­onds to de­cide whether to hit a player and how he should do it. Now that he's been sus­pended by the NHL twice within two weeks this sea­son, the most re­cent of those caus­ing him to miss the' first four games, the fine line between a clean hit and an il­le­gal one has never been more im­por­tant for him.

As Wil­son re­turns to the lineup tonight against New Jer­sey, he's try­ing to strike a bal­ance between stay­ing true to his iden­tity as a bruis­ing power for­ward and also stay­ing out of trou­ble with the NHL's depart­ment of player safety.

"For the ma­jor­ity of the past four sea­sons, you watch pretty much ev­ery one of my hits in frame by frame, tenth by tenth sec­onds, and you can't find one thing that's wrong with it," Wil­son said. "They're text­book body checks bro­ken down even slow. You have to trust your­self. It's such a fast game.

"That be­ing said, you know what, (be­ing out of the lineup) wasn't a good feel­ing. Maybe when I'm ap­proach­ing a hit, think about it a lit­tle more and make sure, 100%, that the out­come is go­ing to be clean and make sure the guy's go­ing to be in a good spot af­ter I hit him and take into ac­count all of those things."

Wil­son was sus­pended two pre­sea­son games for in­ter­fer­ence on Sept. 23 af­ter his hit on Blues for­ward Robert Thomas was deemed late and ex­ces­sively force­ful. In Wash­ing­ton's last ex­hi­bi­tion game, also against St. Louis, Wil­son was ejected for board­ing for­ward Sam Blais and later sus­pended the first four games of the sea­son. That sec­ond sus­pen­sion came in just Wil­son's sec­ond game back from the in­ter­fer­ence in­frac­tion.

Af­ter the first sus­pen­sion, Wil­son said he didn't in­tend on shy­ing away from phys­i­cal play be­cause it's part of what got him to the NHL.

"I know it didn't sound good be­cause I went out and got sus­pended right away, but that's two hits in five years that have been sus­pend­able," Wil­son said Thurs­day. He ac­knowl­edged it's on him to adapt to the player safety depart­ment's cur­rent stan­dards, and a cri­tique he got was that his hits are "ex­ces­sively hard." So when it comes to those huge hits he's so of­ten ad­mired, "maybe you can't re­ally fin­ish a guy like you used to be able to," Wil­son said.

A third sus­pen­sion this sea­son would likely carry even harsher dis­ci­pline than four games be­cause of Wil­son's sta­tus as a re­peat of­fender.

"Just rec­og­nize if some­one is vul­ner­a­ble," coach Barry Trotz said. "A lot of guys turn their num­bers now, which is un­fair to the phys­i­cal play­ers. It's a weak way to — you know, guys ac­tu­ally ex­pose them­selves. Back in the old days, there was not a chance that would hap­pen be­cause you'd get run through the end boards, so you pro­tected your­self and got your­self turned side­ways a bit so you could ab­sorb a hit. ... It's less­ened, so the play­ers that are more phys­i­cal or get on the forecheck and want to hit, they've just got to be more cau­tious with those type of guys that will ex­pose their num­bers the whole time."

GETTY IM­AGES

Rugged Cap­i­tals for­ward Tom Wil­son was a thorn in the side of the Maple Leafs in the play­offs last sp­ing.

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