About 200 hockey fans crowded the Montreal Bell Centre entrance Tuesday to call for tougher measures against head hits in the NHL.

The protest – held ahead of an evening game between the Canadiens and Washington Capitals – was in response to a game hit last week that sent Habs forward Max Pacioretty to the hospital.

Pacioretty was knocked unconscious and hospitalized with a serious concussion and fractured neck vertebra after Boston Bruins player Zdeno Chara rode him into the boards mid-game.


A protester's dog is put to work at the rally. ((Marc Appolonio/CBC))

Fans and Habs owner Geoff Molson cried foul after the NHL ruled against suspending Zdeno for the hit.

Montreal hockey fans say the league isn't properly addressing the incidence of serious injuries.

"If it was the same as high sticking – I mean, they took that out of the game pretty well – why couldn't they do that with the head shot?" asked hockey fan Diane Horan, who drove from Gananoque, Ont., with her husband to protest at the Bell Centre.

Most people at Tuesday's protest were in favour of tougher injury rules, but fan Alexander Bureau stood out, wearing his Zdeno Chara jersey.

"This is, like, over-exposure for nothing, you know?" he said, adding only Habs fans would make such a big deal out of a hit.

Managers shy away from automatic penalties

NHL general managers, meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., announced new recommendations  this week to improve player safety.

But an automatic penalty for any contact with an opposing player's head is not on the table. Recommendations include tighter regulations for existing boarding and charging rules, rather than creating new ones.

The recommendations come as the NHL is in the midst of what some are calling its "annus horribilis," with star player Sidney Crosby out of action for months because of a serious concussion, and last week's hit on Pacioretty.

Pacioretty attends game

Ahead of Tuesday's game, Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau has a message for fans who don't want to see players injured by hits to the head in hockey.

'Going to the game tonight to show the boys some support. Going to be good to see everyone again.' — Injured Habs forward Max Pacioretty, on Twitter

"If you don't like it, don't come to the games," he said. "I think players realize they could get hurt.

"They don't want to do it, but unless you've played and seen what goes on with the speed of the game, you're not going to be able to argue with it."

Boudreau questioned the motives of the protesters, saying they would likely not be so upset if it had been a Boston player who was injured.

"I don't want to get into a controversy, but what if that was [Montreal's] Hal Gill that hit [Boston's] David Krejci?" he said. "I don't think there would be a protest going on here today."

Despite his injuries, Pacioretty said he would be at Tuesday's game.

"Going to the game tonight to show the boys some support. Going to be good to see everyone again," he tweeted.