Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch was in Windsor yesterday to see what has been going through Zack Kassianís head.
Evidently, not much lately.
Kassian, who twice before has been reprimanded for suspect hits on opponents, is under indefinite suspension for his imitation of a derailed locomotive that left Barrieís Matt Kennedy with a concussion.
If this were an isolated incident it would be upsetting enough. But the tiresome litany of hits to the head suffered by players from the NHL to junior hockey seems to be without end and without a solution. The list of legalized aggravated assault runs from Ed Jovanovski to Matt Cooke and Mike Liambas.
It encompasses everyone from stars to team neanderthals; a plague of disrespect that is bringing the sport into disrepute.
Sunday, in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the captain of Team Canada at the recent world junior tournament, Patrice Cormier, came off the Rouyn-Noranda bench, steamed through centre ice, then delivered an elbow into the face of the Quebec Rempartsí Mikael Tam. So, now league disciplinarian Raymond Bolduc is trying to decide what might be a satisfactory punishment. Until then, the league has dropped the cone of silence. Branch, in Windsor to investigate and deliver Kassianís bitter pill, couldnít be reached for comment. In Cormierís case, there have been calls for a season-ending suspension.
Obviously there isnít a satisfactory punishment. Obviously some people are not going to learn and get it into their heads that this behaviour is unacceptable unless someone dies ó even then, it is questionable whether the ramifications can penetrate cement. Every year, hockey leagues talk about reducing concussions and head shots. It was on the NHL governorsí agenda last December. The Ontario Hockey League has outlawed headshots. But every year there is the same story ó players who just donít seem to care.
Tam went into convulsions after the play, his body heaving on the ice before medics could rush him on to a stretcher and to hospital. Hockey traditionalists love to argue that you canít take contact out of the game. This isnít about contact. Itís about an attempt to hit someone so hard they donít want to get up.
Then thereís the ďWell, he had his head downĒ defence. Bogus, too. Even if a player has his head down, that shouldnít make it excusable for a checker to clean his ear-hole with an elbow or drive him through the boards into the next county.
Cormier, like Kassian, is a repeat offender. In a preliminary-round game before the world junior championship, Cormier left Swedenís Anton Rodin with blood streaming from his nose after planting an elbow in his face.
On that occasion, Cormier was headed to his bench. Neither was even involved in the play. Rodin turned from the boards and wheeled toward centre ice and Cormier moved slightly to his right, delivering an elbow, and nonchalantly stepping off the ice.
Havenít seen a look of such contrived innocence since O.J. tried on a new pair of gloves.
The annoying aspect of this is that players like Cormier donít need to play in this fashion. Heís a high-round draft pick by New Jersey and has a future as a grinder type who has some finish. Incidents like this make him look immature.
His victim, Tam, an 18-year-old defenceman, may have suffered brain trauma and some damage to his teeth. He was to undergo a brain scan Monday afternoon.
How is that part of hockey?
How is that part of our heritage?