Sutter seething over NHL justice

AL STRACHAN and TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 3:29 PM ET


 A one-game suspension assessed to forward Ville Nieminen yesterday raised the ire of Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter, who in turn drew a rebuke from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

 Niemenen will miss Game 5 tonight of the Stanley Cup final for running Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning into the glass on Saturday night.

 Without naming Bettman, Sutter essentially said the suspension to Nieminen was taken out of the hands of NHL vice-president Colin Campbell by his boss. Sutter also suggested that the Flames aren't getting any breaks because they are a small-market Canadian team.

 "The decisions are made in New York, not Toronto, so you can talk to Colie all you want," Sutter said.

 "I hold myself responsible because I don't bitch and whine in the media. I don't let our players talk about officiating in the media.

 "We have lost three players to injuries (in incidents which resulted in) a total of two minutes in penalties being called.

 "So fine, we know what we're up against. We're the underdog. We're the little team that wasn't supposed to be here. And a lot of people don't want us to be here and to make sure that we're not successful. We know that."

 In a statement issued by the league last night, Bettman called Sutter's comments "ill-advised, inappropriate and inaccurate."

 'FOCUS ON THE ICE'

 "The focus of the Stanley Cup final should be on the ice, and to the extent any response is needed to any gamesmanship off the ice, it will be made after the final is over," the statement said.

 Campbell was asked yesterday why he felt the suspension was warranted, since there have been other heavy hits in the series.

 "Lecavalier had his back to Nieminen," he said. "Lecavalier touched the puck briefly. Nieminen hit him straight from the back. The hit by Nieminen was a forearm directly to the back of the head, causing Lecavalier's head to hit the glass.

 "That was the difference. It was one of those hits where our antennas were raised. Our reaction was there as soon as the hit was made, unlike the other ones, which were part of the play and didn't bring a response right away to us, that something was wrong."

 Nieminen was suspended for a game earlier in the playoffs for running Detroit Red Wings goaltender Curtis Joseph, and sometimes, suspensions escalate for repeat offenders. But Campbell saw an escalation in the one-game suspension.

 "In this case," he said, "I think the penalty that the player received -- the five-minute major -- was huge in this 1-0 game. And I think that the club was penalized by that alone. Taking him out of another game, I think, is huge and I don't think a second game was required."


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