January 19, 2010
Regular season suspensions warrantedTalents such as Kassian, Cormier should pay price
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
Now, this is a pickle.
It was more convenient for the OHL brass to send Michael Liambas packing after the Ben Fanelli incident back in October.
The ex-Erie Otters fourth liner wasn't an NHL first-round pick.
He wasn't captain of the Canadian world junior team.
He wasn't a guy a GM paid a lot of prospects and draft picks for at the trade deadline to improve a Memorial Cup run.
A young kid got hurt and Liambas was gone for good.
But Windsor Spitfires forward Zack Kassian and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies centre Patrice Cormier, both facing huge suspensions for recent ugly hits that garnered national attention, are different.
They're both first-class talents.
Players the Buffalo Sabres, who took Kassian 13th overall in the draft, and Cormier, who belongs to the New Jersey Devils, expect to be future stars on their teams on day.
So what do you do?
OHL commissioner and Canadian Hockey League president David Branch has to deal with Kassian, who knocked Barrie forward Matt Kennedy loopy while he was looking up at -- and not playing -- the puck last week.
Quebec league counterpart Gilles Courteau now has to discipline Cormier for a vicious and sneaky elbow that sent the Quebec Remparts' Mikael Tam off on a stretcher.
First off, it'll be quite interesting to see who acts more swiftly -- Branch's crew or Courteau's gang.
In explaining the Liambas banishment, Branch set the bar at a controversial point. He indicated then that players are responsible for their actions and the consequences they bring.
So after forcing Liambas out of the league, the Branch naysayers all shot back with the same question: "What would he have done if it was players like Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin committing such an on-ice crime?"
Well, now we'll find out, won't we?
Anything less than 20 games for each of these hits would appear, if nothing else, very hypocritical.
One thing is clear — no one learned or solved a thing from the Liambas problem.
And the timing, really, couldn't be worse for the OHL and CHL.
Forty of the so-called best NHL-draft eligible talents are in Windsor for Wednesday's Top Prospects Game. The league's trying to celebrate the best young stars in the junior ranks at the same time as sorting out this mess.
Well, Kassian played in last year's contest at Oshawa (he took out John Tavares' shoulder late in the game, too, but that was regarded as a good hit).
Cormier, who lived at Sidney Crosby's old billets in Rimouski last year, played in the Top Prospects Game at Edmonton in 2008.
These guys represent the up-and-coming stars.
And honestly, you can't echo Don Cherry anymore and say head shots and cheap hits would drop off if hockey allowed honest, gloves-dropping policemen to do their job.
A Colts teammate did rush to Kennedy's defence and Kassian, ready to fight, pounded him. He's good at that, too.
One of the most discouraging aspects of this is Kassian and Cormier were both playing on new teams after being traded at their league's deadline.
There's little question in a player's mind that throwing a big hit, fighting or "doing what it takes" helps a new guy fit in an unfamiliar dressing room.
But if that's the root of this problem -- acceptance -- then there's really only one thing Branch and Co. can do.
Suspend both until the end of the regular season.
Let these Cup contending clubs fret about what these guys bring to team chemistry during Game 1 of the playoffs.
AROUND THE OHL: Two guys who should be in the Top Prospects Game but aren't: Erie F Greg McKegg (51 points) and London F Jared Knight (25 goals). Just goes to show the game is more about reputation and hype than earning a spot . . . Windsor held the OHL all-star game last year, the Canada-Russia Subway Super Series in November and, now, the Top Prospects Game. There's only one CHL event left - the Memorial Cup - and they're the front-running bid for 2011. But watch out for Mississauga. Good team, good rink and a chance to sell the junior game in a very important market . . . Since Eric Lindros was drafted in 1991, there have been seven NHL first overall picks play in the OHL. All were selected from teams that play in what is now known as the league's Western Conference. No. 8 will come in June when either Plymouth's Tyler Seguin or Windsor's Taylor Hall hear their name in Los Angeles . . . Hall and Seguin are captaining their respective teams in the Top Prospects Games tonight. They're also 1-2 in what's going to be a great OHL scoring race . . . There was only one 100-point scorer in the league last year - Tavares. The OHL will be lucky to have one this year.