Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Erik Haula discusses incident that injured Kari Lehtonen

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: March 11, 2014 - 4:50 PM

Until this morning, I hadn't had a chance to talk with Wild rookie Erik Haula since his major penalty and game misconduct for charging Saturday night in Dallas.

Haula, the Wild's fastest player, gained speed coming into the offensive zone, blew by a defender, cut to the net and crashed hard into Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.

Lehtonen's mask popped off, his head hit the crossbar and he sustained a concussion. He also emerged with blood on his head. Haula was assessed a major for charging and Stars stud Tyler Seguin scored the tying goal in an eventual win.

Replays did show Haula was tripped by Stars player Cody Eakin and Haula wasn't disciplined by the NHL.

Understandably frustrated Stars coach Lindy Ruff called it a "dirt play" by a "fourth-liner," although those of us who know Haula also know he's not your typical fourth-liner. It's just his current role as a first-year NHLer, but he's a past scoring star at the University of Minnesota with blinding speed, not a thug. Before that game, he had eight penalty minutes in 28 games.

Still, Ruff was frustrated just like Mike Yeo would have been if a Dallas player did that to Darcy Kuemper.

On the incident, Haula said, "After a play like that, when I go to the locker room, first I want to see it myself. I think it’s pretty clear that my intention is definitely not to run the goalie or anything like that. I think it’s self-explanatory. We’re up 3-2 and I’m going hard to the net, I’ve got a lot of speed, my foot gets tangled up with [Eakin], I basically fall forward. I’m trying to score a goal. That’s my main intention. It’s unfortunate when I go into the locker room and see that [Lehtonen’s] hurt. It’s not a good feeling ever. I wish all the best for him and hopefully a speedy recovery."

Was he worried he'd be suspended? "I wasn’t thinking about it. I was so nervous about the game. I didn’t feel too good about the penalty and then the team losing. I was really disappointed about that. Having a tight race like it is, the points are crucial. That was my only focus at that point. I knew that everything was going to take care of itself. If the league saw it as a dirty play, they would have suspended me. But I think that everyone can see – even if you want to or don’t want to look at it that close – that I do get tripped up and was kind of helpless (meaning he had nowhere to go)."

That's my feeling on the play. I don't think he had intent to run Lehtonen. Just look at the replay in real time. The kid was absolutely flying, he cuts to the net, tangles skates and next thing you know, he's at the crease with uncontrollable speed. He just ran out of room and had nowhere to go.

I also think it's a tough call for the ref there. It was a scary site seeing Lehtonen get crashed into. There's an obvious injury. If you don't see the trip or you think Haula could have still avoided Lehtonen, a major there is probably the right call. Like I said the other day, I do think the only thing that was in dispute is Trevor Daley probably should have gotten two for roughing, which would have made it essentially a 3-minute major.

Either way, Lehtonen is hurt and hopefully he gets better quickly. Thank goodness from Dallas' perspective that it traded for Tim Thomas three days before.

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