BOSTON – Marian Hossa is one of the Chicago Blackhawks’ top scorers, with three winning goals already this postseason.
And then, suddenly, he wasn’t in the lineup for a team that needed all the scoring it can get.
Hossa’s surprise scratch from Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals – and the one-word explanation, “upper,” for the part of his body that was injured – is part of a long-running cat-and-mouse game NHL teams play on the theory that any information about injuries is a competitive disadvantage.
“I think that’s self-explanatory,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, declining to explain why he declined to explain the secrecy surrounding Hossa’s injury.
Hossa is expected to play in Game 4 tonight in Boston, Quenneville allowed, but only after making clear that “I’m not going to get exactly what the injury is or where it occurred.”
“It’s sort of a secret society in the hockey world and in the injury world,” Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland said. “You don’t want other teams having any injury information at all.”
Hossa’s mysterious injury may have been a turning point in Game 3, but it is hardly unusual in the secretive world of hockey injuries. Players and coaches say they just don’t talk about what’s hurting, partly because they don’t want to seem weak in a sport where they hit each other for a living.
But mostly, they don’t want to let the other team know where to aim.
“If I’m going out to battle and I have an injury to any part of my body, I don’t want the other side to know what it is,” Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said.
Injury information can also help the opponent strategize.
Quenneville was so concerned about giving the Bruins advance notice of even a few minutes that he didn’t let substitute Ben Smith skate in the warmup even though there was a chance he would need to play.
“I just didn’t want to tip our hand that there’s something going on,” the coach said.
“Ben was ready. I knew he was doing everything,” Quenneville said. “We were hopeful that Hoss was playing, and Ben was doing everything to get ready. He was ready.”
“I’m still surprised,” Thornton said. “I don’t know what happened to him.”
No hard feelings, Bruins coach Claude Julien said. After all, he would do – and has done – the same thing.
“I respect that from other teams. When you’re playing against each other, you know exactly where everybody is coming from,” Julien said.
“There’s times where you have to protect your players, and I understand it.”