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Penguins players offer well-wishes for Steelers LB Ryan Shazier

Jonathan Bombulie
| Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, 12:12 p.m.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton talks with Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier as he is carted from the field after being injured during the first quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton talks with Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier as he is carted from the field after being injured during the first quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.

Penguins players joined the legions wishing well to injured Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier on Tuesday morning.

“It's tough to see. It's tough to watch,” said defenseman Ian Cole, who was one of a handful of players to send support to Shazier via social media immediately after he suffered a back injury making a tackle Monday night. “It's something that seemingly seemed fairly routine for him. It kind of shocks you a little bit, makes you a little sick to your stomach.”

Shazier has regularly attended Penguins playoff games over the past two seasons and has occasionally been a visitor to the team's locker room.

“Super nice guy, a great disposition,” Cole said. “It's tough to see. We're not friends, we're not buddies by any means, but you do feel that kinship and it's tough to see a guy go down like that, especially a guy that's as talented and a chief part of his team like he is.”

Beyond the Shazier injury, the brutal nature of Monday night's game shined a spotlight on a debate that is taking place in hockey as well as football. JuJu Smith-Schuster's block that sent Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict off the field on a stretcher was the flashpoint.

In a physical sport, how much violence is too much?

The 6-foot-1, 219-pound Cole is among the leading hitters on the Penguins team and the most physical player on the defense corps. It's a question he has to answer on almost a daily basis.

“Contact sports are starting to get maybe a little bit away from the high-end violence,” Cole said. “Obviously concussions have a huge part of that for football and for hockey. It's tough. It's a really tough, kind of weird place we are with society right now to be in a contact sport and be really physical and now, especially the high-end violent plays are more condemned than praised. I know people like that and they don't like that at the same time. It's kind of a weird spot that we're in, for sure.”

Coach Mike Sullivan said he thought the phenomenon Cole described is not new.

Players who have intent to injure opponents have a “flawed mindset,” Sullivan said, but beyond that, there are shades of gray.

“I think the nature of our sport, and football is similar, is that there is a physical element that is part of the fabric of the game,” Sullivan said. “There's always going to be that line that players are challenged with on what's too much and what isn't enough. That's something that players have been dealing with for as long as the game has been played. I don't think football's any different in that regard.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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