It always begins so innocently, as the opponent curls toward the right-wing boards. Then here comes a pass, here comes the puck, and here comes a locomotive numbered 55, who sends the skater sprawling to the ice, the fans to their feet, the referee to the crime scene.
The devastating crunches delivered by Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall might be the most underrated skill in hockey. It’s an art form, a culmination of gifts that include graceful backward skating, precise timing and lethal execution.
When he chops his feet into a hook-shaped motion, all while flashing a sneer on his face, you know a yard sale is coming.
Here’s a few of our favorite “Kronwalled” victims:
Date: May 4, 2011
Crime scene: Joe Louis Arena
Significance: Game 3 of the 2011 Western Conference semifinals
Time of death: 11:33 mark of first period
Coroner report: Heatley was relegated to all-fours. He didn’t know if he was playing in Detroit, San Jose, or his native Germany. Heck, he probably couldn’t tell you if the Berlin Wall was destroyed or still standing.
“Look at him. I think in Slap Shot they said, ‘it got him right in the mind,’” Paul Bissonnette told the TSN audience during the first intermission. “Look at him, he was shooken (sic) up a bit.”
Eventually, a half-wit Heatley skated to the bench and walked to the Sharks dressing room under his own power.
Date: May 8, 2011
Crime scene: HP Pavilion (San Jose, Calif.)
Significance: Game 5 of the 2011 Western Conference semifinals
Time of death: 18:26 mark of second period
Coroner report: “Did you see what he did to Dany Heatley?” Clowe said to mlive.com before Game 5. “I just wish I was lined up against Kronwall.”
Clowe met the genie of his wish in the second period. He looked behind his body for a puck near the Sharks bench, and by the time he lifted his head, he met the No. 55 on Kronwall’s left sleeve.
“KABANG!,” VERSUS color commentator Daryl Reaugh said. “When you’re in the train tracks … yikes.”
Date: May 15, 2012
Crime scene: Globe Arena (Stockholm, Sweden)
Significance: IIHF World Championships
Time of death: 9:34 mark of second period
Coroner report: You don’t need a translator to comprehend this: devastation is a universal language.
Kronwall, playing for Team Sweden, hit Latvia’s Kaspars Saulietis so hard, his back met the dasher of the boards in mid-air.
“Kruuun-waaahlled,” as the announcer pronounced in his respective accent.
Kronwall’s Team Sweden teammate Henrik Zetterberg wore a grin as he glided toward the wreckage.
A trainer and official helped Saulietis back to the bench.
Date: March 6, 2012
Crime scene: Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Significance: Regular season game
Time of death: 7:24 mark of second period
Coroner report: We call this the Orange Crush.
Voracek tried reaching back with one hand to corral a rolling puck – a cute way for a skilled player to maintain his momentum.
Except Kronwall doesn’t like cute ways and crushed Voracek, who fell back-first toward the ice, then reached his hands into the air as if he was holding a phantom stick.
There’s one logical explanation derived from watching punch-drunk Voracek try to grasp something with his hands: he was searching for smelling salts.
“Voracek has no clue where he is,” Ken Daniels told the FSN Detroit audience.
Voracek was on all-fours like a dog when the Flyers’ trainer met him outside the blue line.
“Jeeze, I wanted to puke,” Philadelphia forward Daniel Briere said to flyers.thecheckingline.com. “It’s still not fun to see when you’re on the ice and you see someone laying there shaking. It was a bad feeling in everybody’s stomach.”
Well, not for Wings fans.
Date: May 22, 2009
Significance: Game 3 of Western Conference Finals
Crime scene: United Center (Chicago, Ill.)
Time of death: 13:05 mark of first period.
Coroner report: This is by far the most lethal of all Kronwall’s hits.
A collective “OH!!” was voiced by the entire United Center audience upon Kronwall’s devastating impact.
Havlat, however, never heard it. He was in la-la land, laying back-first upon the ice surface, his eyes gazing into the rafters, no idea if it was May or October, playoffs or exhibition.
The hit occurred because Havlat stared at his skates, searching for a bouncing puck – which is always a no-no in the vicinity of No. 55.
“He lost all concept of where the pressure was coming from,” VERSUS commentator Ed Olczyk said.
Kronwall was wrongfully assessed a five-minute major, 10-minute misconduct and a game-misconduct for a legal hit.
“The puck was there. He was playing the puck,” Olczyk said. “It was a violent hit, but it looked like a legal hit. I don’t see a penalty on that hit.”