Look up 'inconsistent', you'll find OHL

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

The Ontario Hockey League blew an excellent opportunity yesterday to prove it's a forward-thinking and enlightened sports operation by failing at a most basic level.

The junior league is woefully inconsistent. Proof of that skated out last night in Peterborough Petes colours to the shock of many London Knights fans.

It didn't help that Steve Downie, the villain du jour for Knights fans, did a pirouette to the strains of the Skaters' Waltz. Nor did it help that he teed up the winning goal 30 seconds from the end for a 3-2 victory that gave the Petes a commanding 3-0 series lead.

It was Downie who pitch-forked London's Ryan Martinelli at the end of regulation in Sunday's game at Peterborough. It was to a place where the sun doesn't shine. Had it been more severe, a son might not shine one day, either.

There was no penalty, which undoubtedly surprised a nationwide audience watching on Sportsnet that saw several replays of the spearing incident, followed by Martinelli writhing in pain on the ice.

The OHL told the Knights that since there was no penalty called, there would be no suspension. But, wait a minute, how about some consistency at the league level, if not in the officiating?

London Knights governor Trevor Whiffen lives in a world where precedent rules, a legal world where consistency of judgment is paramount.

It's hardly surprising, then, that the lawyer's sense of moral rectitude is as offended as that of Knights fans and presumably, hockey fans across the country who happened to see it.

They've all seen suspensions arising after a review following a no-penalty incident. Even in the OHL itself.

Back when Guelph's Jamie Arniel drilled his elbow into the head of London's Andrew Wilkins, there also was no penalty. But Arniel was subsequently suspended five games.

It's not as though there's a different application of OHL law for the playoffs. London's David Bolland got a four-game suspension for kicking an Owen Sound opponent during that series a few weeks ago.

"There's a lot of precedent for suspending a player for an incident behind the play that the referee didn't see," Whiffen said.

"If you don't have that ability, it could be anarchy out there, with players susceptible to all sorts of spearing and slashing."

The Knights wisely didn't try to exact revenge, though Sergei Kostitsyn laid out Downie with a second-period check.

Pro leagues have been guilty of overlooking some egregious incidents over the years but have been forced, due to the increased vigilance of sports television, to protect their integrity. When Phoenix Suns' Raja Bell worked over the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, he was immediately handed a one-game suspension.

Guys like Whiffen, who live in a world of pretty even-handed justice, have a right to wonder about the variances that can crop up in hockey.

"When I look at some other suspensions, the David Bolland situation or the Arniel boy, getting no penalty but a five-game suspension, it's disappointing. The league didn't think (the Martinelli incident) was worthy of supplemental discipline, they thought it was maybe worthy of a two-minute penalty."

There's a feeling around the Knights that there are forces within the league that are out to get them. They aren't the only team to feel that way, of course.

Whiffen played that one close to the vest.

"I don't think anybody in a position of authority . . . would admit that, but I personally feel we don't always get the result we deserve on controversial issues," he said.

"How can you suspend Bolland for four games and not suspend Downie for five minutes? It's hard to reconcile that."

It's even harder for a league that belongs to a rather large and storied hockey institution to reconcile its inconsistencies.


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