Jan 22, 2010

Policing Head Shots

Imagine this, a guy is running full speed down the sidewalk and in a premeditated moment he raises his elbow and hits another guy walking in the opposite direction. The hit was so violent that the person that was struck was knocked unconscious and began convulsing on the sidewalk. This similar scenario transpired last week when Patrice Cormier nailed Mikael Tam with a blatant elbow to the head.

The question has now become one of what to do to penalize the player, Cormier. There are many calls in the media for police involvement, and if the scenario played out the way I first described it, then it is certainly a police matter. But this heinous hit didn't occur on a city sidewalk, it occurred in a hockey rink during a game of Major Junior hockey. The league involved, the QMJHL is tasked with providing the punishment and that's where it should stay. There can't be police involved in all altercations that occur on a playing field, although there are certainly exceptions. If the police were to investigate this incident and decide to file charges then where does their involvement stop? Should a baseball pitcher be charged with assault with a weapon for intentionally throwing a ninety mile-an-hour fastball at a batters head? How about charging a basketball player with assault for giving a hard foul to an opposing player taking a shot. A slap to the arm or chest is assault is it not? When playing soccer, defenders regularly perform sliding takedowns to remove the ball from an opponent. While they likely get carded for the play what if the opponent was injured in the process? Should the defender be charged by police? Then there is UFC and boxing where the ultimate goal is to beat the hell out of your opponent, is there a need for a police presence in the ring?

The answer to all those questions is NO. The participants involved have accepted some level of risk in playing their sport competitively, yet some people still want to see police enter the hockey arena and tend to on ice matters. Is this really a venture that you want pursued? Once started there is no turning back, and it won't stay on the ice. The door would been opened and all sporting plays would become liable and punishable in a court of law. What would the punishment be for a tripping infraction? On the ice it's a 2-minute penalty, but on the sidewalk it's worth a fine and a court date. Should the local police detachment be meeting players at the end of each game and handing out court summons and tickets?

No, instead of police involvement, a pro-active approach needs to be taken that starts from the NHL and works its way down through the feeder leagues. OHL Commissioner David Branch set a precedent when he suspended Michael Liambas of the Erie Otters for the rest of the 2009/2010 season. He carried on and suspended Windsor player, Zack Kassian, 20-games for an extremely hard hit on Matt Kennedy. Branch ruled the hit was borderline "okay" but the suspension is more for the predatory nature of the hit. Kennedy had not touched the puck, his head was turned and he was vulnerable, he was prey for Kassian to take out. This suspension is suppose to send a message about respect on the ice for other players. Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman can take a lesson from David Branch on how to send a message to its players.

In my opinion, the Cormier hit on Tams is worse than the Liambas check from behind. So what can the QMJHL do that has bite? It should be a given that his Junior career is finished, but as a first round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils it is quite possible that Patrice will be playing in the NHL next fall. This doesn't really seem fair does it? In instances like this, all leagues need to have a common policy where they acknowledge each others suspensions. So if the QMJHL decides to suspend Cormier for the rest of his Junior career and he has 2 years of eligibility left, then he should be out of hockey everywhere for that time frame. Playing in the NHL shouldn't be an out-clause to a Junior suspension.

But in this instance, I believe it may just be.

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