Wolves' McKenzie suspended; Charlotte coach calls his actions 'bush league'
The war on the ice between Chicago and Charlotte officially turned into a war of words Tuesday after the AHL suspended Wolves forward Curtis McKenzie for Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals.
McKenzie was hit with 27 minutes worth of penalties -- including 10 each for an instigator and an aggressor -- after jumping Charlotte's Steven Lorentz against the boards as Game 2 came to an end.
McKenzie, who was responding to a cross check of teammate Keegan Kolesar by the Checkers' Patrick Brown, unloaded about seven punches on Lorentz, the final four coming with Lorentz lying face down on the ice.
Afterward, Charlotte coach Mike Vellucci told reporters: "I used to have respect for a guy (in McKenzie) that played 100 games in the NHL, but he hit a defenseless player four or five times. … There's a code in hockey and he should know it and everybody knows it. … I hope somebody takes care of what he's supposed to do from the league standpoint."
Vellucci added that McKenzie's actions were "bush league."
Lorentz did practice Tuesday ahead of Wednesday's Game 3 at Allstate Arena. The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1.
Wolves coach Rocky Thompson was "disappointed" in the AHL's decision and "upset" with Vellucci's postgame comments. As far as Thompson's concerned, it was Brown's hit on Kolesar that sparked the fracas in the first place.
"That's what started the whole melee," Thompson said. "They won the game. The game was over. … Tip our hats to them. They did a good job, they played a really good game.
"Then one of their players hit our player from behind on a dirty play. That's defenseless. The problem was they picked on the wrong guys and as a result one of their players got hurt. …
"If their coach has a problem with it, he can walk down the hall and talk to me -- not talk to the players. I'm not going after their players, so don't go after mine. It's an issue with me."
Vellucci's response was simple: "He can say whatever he wants to say. It doesn't make any sense to me. They asked me a question in the press conference and I told them I thought they were cheap shots."
Former Blackhawks forward Tomas Jurco, who gave Charlotte a 4-3 lead with a third-period goal, understands emotions can run high during the playoffs. But -- just like his coach -- Jurco also believes there a line players can't cross.
"Stuff like that happens," Jurco said. "It's not a big deal until somebody's getting punched in the face while he can't defend himself. That's too much. This is a professional league. This is not a beer league."
McKenzie was not available for comment, but Kolesar, Stefan Matteau and Griffin Reinhart all came to their teammate's defense.
"You look on your leaders for stuff like that," Kolesar said. "As a team we know that every one of us would step up for each other no matter who, what or when. It was just him in that particular time.
"It's just unfortunate that a suspension came out of it. We'll move on, we'll get (Game 3) and get him back for Game 4."
Losing McKenzie would be a big blow for most teams. After all, this is a 28-year-old veteran who has reached the Calder Cup Finals twice -- winning it all in 2014 and losing a heartbreaking Game 7 last season. He's also played in 99 games with the Dallas Stars and leads the Wolves with 8 goals in the postseason. Two of those scores came in a clinching Game 6 victory over San Diego in the Western Conference Finals.
The Wolves, though, aren't most teams and have thrived all season despite myriad hurdles placed in their path.
"That's the benefit that we've had," Thompson said. "It's happened to us all season long and our guys know how to deal with these situations. …
"That's the name of the game is how you deal with adversity, and our guys deal with it extremely well -- the best I've ever seen."