Wed Nov 16 07:30pm EST
The severity of the suspension for swinging a stick at another player apparently works like real estate — location, location, location.
London Knights winger Ryan Rupert got only a five-game suspension Wednesday for viciously slashing the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds' Nick Cousins and punching him while he was laid flat on the ice after the final buzzer in a game on Nov. 11. No doubt there is a lot of head-scratching at how the suspension could be relatively short in a season where 10 players have already received suspensions of 10 or more games, with the league issuing 225 games' worth of suspensions. The only semi-rational conclusion — the league does not provide video rationale for suspensions of less than 10 games — is that Rupert got off relatively lightly since he was a first-time offender who struck Cousins in the midsection and not the head.
"We didn't see a baseball-style swing as some accounts had it. We viewed it as more of a chopping action. Illegal use of the stick is something of concern, but he also hit the Soo player in a place on the body that is well-protected."
Branch also took into account that Rupert was reacting to Cousins, who was suspended two games for enticing the Knights player after the final buzzer.
He discounted further discipline for bullying after Rupert threw off his gloves and punched the Greyhound player. "We looked at that, but we didn't see that as the classic case of bullying. He did hit the player, but then realized what he was doing was wrong and stopped." (London Free Press)
That was similar to the the exact defence Knights coach and part-owner Dale Hunter mounted earlier this week ("he got him on the pants"), so there will be grumbling about a player on a high-profile team being favoured. That's not an accusation, just acknowledgement the league is giving fans a reason. The defence of the light would be hat it wasn't on an unsuspecting player, since Cousins had taunted Rupert, which earned him a misconduct and a subsequent two-game suspension. That doesn't mean Cousins wasn't somewhat vulnerable, since Rupert's two-hander was unchecked aggression.
Bottom line, it's confusing.
When the Oshawa Generals' Christian Thomas got a 10-game ban for high-sticking the Saginaw Spirit's Brandon Archibald on Oct. 23, the league's rationale stated in part it was "persuaded not an intentional blow to head" and "players must responsible for their stick."
Neither qualifier would apply to what Rupert did. It was intent to injure, something nasty the league is trying to expunge. He was not responsible for his stick. It's also arguable that pouncing on Cousins after he was down was a form of bully behaviour.
The other reason why this will upset people is that it was completely gratuitous. It is for the greater good the league is trying to see if stiffer suspensions will cut down on checks to the head and reduce traumatic brain injuries. But pretty much every player who's been suspended for a check to the head — and on Wednesday the Brampton Battalion's Alex O'Neil got a 10-game ban and Saginaw's Dean Pawlaczyk, a repeat offender, got 15 for just that — at least tried to make a hockey play that went wrong. How is that worse than something after the buzzer which is wholly unavoidable?
Ultimately, one does hope Rupert learns from his mistake and finds a way to play with edge but respect opponents. It seems like he was awful fortunate to only be missing five games.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).