TAMPA — Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman defended rookie Brett Connolly, who has been heavily criticized for his hit during a scrimmage at Canada's world junior selection camp that injured teammate Quinton Howden.
"I didn't think there was anything wrong with the hit," Yzerman said Thursday. "There was nothing dirty about it. They wanted him to play hard, and he finished his check. Unfortunately, a player was injured."
The hit came after Connolly was admonished by coaches for a lack of intensity. Coach Don Hay said the hit into the chest of Howden, whose head hit the glass, might have been "a little late." Howden is out with what the Calgary Herald reported are "concussion-like symptoms."
Connolly made the team but has stayed in the news. He raised eyebrows, according to the Herald, when he said going to the tournament was "bittersweet" compared to staying in the NHL. Then came the reminder from coaches about effort.
"He's a 19-year-old coming from an NHL team. He's got to conduct himself properly," Yzerman said. "They're going to be watching him. There are going to be very high expectations on him. He's got to be careful about everything he does. He's got to set an example."
Generally, Yzerman said, the world juniors will be "another great experience for Brett. He'll learn from it every single day and come back a better player."
As for the hit, Yzerman reiterated the criticism was misplaced: "It was not a dirty hit."