Van Ryn loss a big blow

Mike Van Ryn suffered a concussion, a broken nose, a broken hand, a lacerated forehead and broken...

Mike Van Ryn suffered a concussion, a broken nose, a broken hand, a lacerated forehead and broken teeth. (Sun Media/Dave Abel)

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

Maple Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher took the high road yesterday to the news that Montreal Canadiens' forward Tom Kostopoulos was suspended for three games for hitting Toronto forward Mike Van Ryn from behind.

But the tone of his voice spoke volumes.

"It's a league issue and they do what they think they have to do," a subdued Fletcher said. "But all I know is, we have a pretty good player who is going to miss a lot of games."

Kostopoulos also will forfeit $32,926.83 US in pay for the first-period hit delivered in Toronto's 6-3 win over the Habs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday. Van Ryn, meanwhile, is out for about a month with a concussion, a broken nose, a broken hand, a lacerated forehead and broken teeth.

"My concern is getting Mike Van Ryn healthy and back playing for us," Fletcher said. "It's easy to put a time frame on his hand injury -- four to six weeks. But as far as the concussion is concerned, you just don't know. Hopefully he has no side affects that will keep him sidelined for a long period of time."

Fletcher met with Van Ryn yesterday and said his spirits were "OK," given the circumstances. The veteran defenceman was released from Mt. Sinai hospital on Sunday morning and will be examined by renowned concussion specialist Dr. Karen Johnston in Toronto this week.

The NHL ruled yesterday that Kostopoulos, who denied trying to hurt Van Ryn, was a repeat offender, thus the three game suspension. Toronto forward Ryan Hollweg, another repeat offender, was suspended for three games earlier this season following a hit from behind on St. Louis Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo.

"While it is my determination that Kostopoulos did not deliver a check to an unsuspecting opponent, his actions caused injuries," NHL senior executive vice-president of hockey operations Colin Campbell said.

Fletcher said hitting from behind is becoming a major problem, not so much because of an intent to injure, but more because of the post-lockout rule (2004-05) which penalizes defencemen for interfering on the forecheck.

"Before, when there was an aggressive forechecker moving in on a defenceman, the defenceman's partner would have gotten in his way, impeding his progress. Now there's a clear alley to get to a defender," Fletcher said.

"You can discuss this from many different angles," he said. "But (hits from behind) are concerning to me and hopefully the powers that be will come up with some ideas where we can get away from this happening."

Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said he doesn't believe Kostopoulos tried to hurt Van Ryn, or that the hitting from behind is the result of a lack of respect in the league. Wilson said the players are just bigger and faster.

"Kids wear all this equipment now and they can't get hurt when they weigh 75 or 80 pounds. But when you get to our league, when you weigh 225 to 250 pounds and you go around bashing guys and they don't have all the faceshields and everything else, people get hurt," the coach said, while brushing aside suggestions that a faceshield would have saved Van Ryn from serious injury.

"Put a pumpkin against the boards and run into it and see what happens to the pumpkin," he said. "Put a full helmet on the pumpkin and it's still going to squash."

Wilson said a shield may protect a player from getting cut in the face, but that's about it.

Hollweg said Kostopoulos' hit on Van Ryn was much worse than his hit on Pietrangelo and suggested that, as a repeat offender, the Canadiens forward should get a 20-game suspension.

"If you look at (my hits), there were no injuries," Hollweg said. "I'm not saying that's the right thing -- you never want those hits from behind -- but you have to look at the injury that (Van Ryn) got.

"Things happen at high speeds," Toronto forward Jamal Mayers said. "But there's a responsibility for a player to be a little smarter when a guy's in a vulnerable position."


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