OHL needs to review OA rule

KALVIN REID, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 5:56 PM ET

The Ontario Hockey League deserves kudos for the stiff suspension it handed down Wednesday, but it shouldn't be finished yet.

League commissioner David Branch suspended Erie Otters forward Michael Liambas for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs, ending the overager's junior hockey career.

Liambas laid a brutal hit on Kitchener Rangers defenceman Ben Fanelli last week. As Fanelli was going behind his own net to play the puck, Liambas came in full speed from the opposite side and drove his shoulder into the top of Fanelli's back; Fanelli was thrust head first into the boards, hit the side of his head on the stanchion holding up the glass, lost his helmet and ended up unconscious and bleeding on the ice.

In hockey circles, there has been much debate about the hit and the fate of Liambas, nevermind Fanelli who remains in serious but stable condition in a Hamilton hospital with a fractured skull.

But this much is evident: The hit was reckless and clearly from behind.

Hockey is a fast, sometimes violent, game. Hitting is a big part of that game. But there has been a growing trend to accept hits from behind as part of the game.

They are not. Any hit on a player's back, especially when that player is driven into the boards, is, and should be, illegal.

That alone justifies the harsh suspension handed down by Branch.

But the suspension should just be the start.

That Fanelli's helmet popped off almost on impact indicates he wasn't wearing it properly. It is incumbent on the OHL to ensure all helmets are worn properly, with the chin strap tight enough to keep the helmet where it belongs -- on a player's head.

The league should also review its overage rule. Liambas is 20; Fanelli is 16. That is a man playing against a boy. Those four years mean a lot in terms of physical development in young men -- and the size of these two players clearly illustrates that.

25 LBS. HEAVIER

Liambas stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 200 pounds. Fanelli is a few inches taller, but tips the scales at only 175 pounds.

An overage junior hockey player is unlikely to make the NHL. By that point, they should be playing in a mid- to low-level pro league, or considering another career and going back to school.

Major junior hockey, a developmental level for most of our country's top prospects, is no longer the place for overage players.

This hit has had extensive media coverage and has damaged the OHL's reputation.

Branch sent a good message with the suspension of Liambas, but there is so much more he can and should do to prove the OHL has the safety of its players foremost in mind.

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Reid is the Editorial Page Editor of the St. Catharines Standard.

KALVIN.REID@SUNMEDIA.CA


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