Blackhawks’ Andreas Athanasiou angered by Jacob Trouba’s latest high hit: ‘Trying to hurt people’

Athanasiou somehow avoided injury when Trouba blew him up during Saturday’s Blackhawks-Rangers game, but he thought it was a dirty play nonetheless.

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Andreas Athanasiou (left) thought the high hit he received from Jacob Trouba (right) on Sunday was a dirty play.

Andreas Athanasiou (left) thought the high hit he received from Jacob Trouba (right) on Sunday was a dirty play.

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ELMONT, N.Y. — At the very last moment Saturday, Andreas Athanasiou saw Jacob Trouba charging at him.

The Blackhawks forward was able to pull his head back ever so slightly, somehow avoiding serious injury as the Rangers captain and defenseman blew him up at the Hawks’ blue line. He bounced back up a few seconds later, played the rest of the game and remained in the lineup Sunday against the Islanders.

But make no mistake, Athanasiou was angry about the sequence. Normally a quieter guy, he couldn’t help but share some thoughts about Trouba before the Islanders game.

“That guy is known for hitting high, not really worrying about the puck out there and almost trying to hurt people,” Athanasiou said. “That’s his game; that’s what he does. He’s an $8 million man with zero goals, so he has to figure out how to do something when making that much. If you can’t help the team, I guess you try to hurt guys on the other team.”

Trouba wasn’t penalized for the hit, only for fighting in the ensuing scrum. Hawks captain Jonathan Toews — who immediately dropped his gloves to defend Athanasiou — ended up receiving the most discipline (17 penalty minutes).

The NHL neither suspended nor fined Trouba, evidently determining the hit was legal. Based on extensive replays from various angles, it looked like it was on the borderline between clean and dirty, but Trouba did leave his feet to deliver it.

Whether dirty or not, though, it was almost certainly unnecessary. Defenseman Filip Roos had broken up a Rangers rush a few seconds before, and Athanasiou grabbed the puck to start a counterattack. But by the time Trouba plastered him, the puck had already passed by.

“It was a weird play,” Athanasiou said. “The puck was there. He could’ve made a play on the puck. Instead it’s like [he had] an intent to try to hurt somebody. He’s been known to do that. You have to know when he’s on the ice, and he got me there.”

Trouba has been involved in many comparable controversies before. Athanasiou mentioned the “couple times” Trouba has delivered questionable hits on Penguins star Sidney Crosby. Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon and Hurricanes forward Seth Jarvis were also recipients of Trouba hits to their heads last season.

And, of course, there’s the infamous hit that knocked out and concussed forward Jujhar Khaira last December.

Coincidentally (or not), earlier in the second period Saturday, Khaira had finally extracted some revenge for that by fighting Trouba. That fight — in which both Khaira and Trouba landed some punches but ended in a tie — concluded a shift in which the Rangers twice delivered big hits on forward Jason Dickinson, which Khaira answered by laying his body on Trouba.

“Sometimes that’s better,” coach Luke Richardson said Sunday. “Then you’re ready — you know the guy is coming at you. You’re ready for it, and you’re not walking into something you don’t like.

“[Khaira] did a good job of getting hold of a big guy like that, shaking him around a bit and putting him in a position where he was in the upper hand. Trouba didn’t look too comfortable with that, and that was the end of the fight.”

Richardson has been universally supportive of his players defending themselves physically or even taking penalties to stand up for themselves this season, and that mentality has been embraced by his team.

“We wanted to show we weren’t going to cave in,” Patrick Kane said postgame Saturday. “It starts with ‘Tazer’ doing what he did, sticking up for a teammate after that hit. [Connor Murphy] getting in there. [And Max Domi] coming out the next shift . . . and hitting [Rangers defenseman Adam] Fox pretty good.”

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