|Kitchener Rangers defenceman Ben Fanelli suffered head trauma and a fractured skull following a hit in 2009. He returned to the ice in 2011. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency/Files)
LONDON, ONT. - The recent episodes of violence in hockey, manifest mostly in head shots, has spawned volumes of written opinion and hours of television opinion.
In the midst of it all, one of the most reasoned and less emotional views comes from a player who was almost killed after being hit from behind and his head slammed into the glass.
In October 2009, seven games into his OHL career, Kitchener Rangers defenceman Ben Fanelli went behind his net to get the puck. Erie Otters' Mike Liambas slammed him into the boards. Fanelli suffered head trauma and a fractured skull. His life hung in the balance for several days.
Liambas was suspended for life from the OHL.
The incident spawned massive reaction and the OHL reacted appropriately; they began to hand down heavy suspensions for head checking and hitting from behind.
Once Fanelli's life was out of danger, few people believed he would ever play hockey again.
After 23 months he took to the ice to start the 2011 season with the Rangers. After some early rough patches, he has become a permanent fixture on the Rangers blueline.
On Tuesday, the Ontario Hockey League suspended Ottawa 67's forward Marc Zanetti for the rest of the OHL playoffs for a kicking motion he made against a Niagara Falls IceDog player.
Fanelli doesn't consider himself an expert on suspensions or dirty hits. He says what happened to him makes him biased.
But in his time away from hockey, he's found an almost zen-like insight into how these things happen.
"I wish I had a comment that would make a difference. I'm just a player like everyone else out here," Fanelli said before the Knights and Rangers played Game 3 of their OHL Western Conference final.
"But no one wants to see a player hurt or another player make decisions that don't result in the best outcome. I realize finally that the emotion in an OHL game, let alone a playoff game, it's difficult to control your emotions sometimes.
"I can now understand how decisions are made that you will regret later. It's part of the game and you have to deal with it. Whoever makes the decisions for the suspension, they have to make the decision the way they see fit. I just hope that after a game, everyone can head home without having been hurt and play in the next game after that."
Fanelli believes in players being responsible for their actions.
Through the almost two years Fanelli sat, the message he heard over and over again was that he would never play hockey again at a competitive level. The message he delivered was that knew he was going to come back.
The truth was far different. "What people didn't know was that I was saying that because I wasn't getting the answer I wanted to hear," Fanelli said.
"That's what I was telling myself and the people who were interviewing me that I knew I would be back. But it was a way out for me. It got to me if I kept hearing over and over again, 'you would never play again' and things like that so I kept telling myself I would. It's still a huge surprise to me that I'm playing. I kept hearing that even just before I came back. It's still a miracle to me that I'm playing."