There is always a fine line between the letter of the law and the spirit of it, especially when it's the playoffs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The Halifax Mooseheads learned this afternoon that captain Cameron Critchlow's junior tenure might end with him sitting out a suspension.
In a controversial call, the QMJHL has upheld Critchlow's one-game automatic suspension that came with the game misconduct he received for removing the helmet of Rimouski's Jonathan Lavoie during a fight on Friday night. Critchlow doesn't appear to try to deliberately pull off remove Lavoie's helmet. The 20-year-old forward did make contract with Lavoie's helmet, but it appears he was reaching to grab his shoulder pads.
Now the Mooseheads have to regroup from a 9-0 stomping in Game 5 of the series that put them one game from elimination without their senior leader. The league's justification is there's no replay that shows Critchlow didn't take off Lavoie's helmet, ergo there doesn't necessarily need to be proof he did since the officials called it as such. Never mind that the league has suspended players for dirty plays where no penalty was assessed.
From Matthew Wuest:
[QMJHL disciplinary prefect Raymond] Bolduc told Metro Halifax he didn't have enough video evidence to overturn the referee's call.
"For me to change the call, I need to see video where it's clear he didn't remove the helmet, but when you look at the video, on RDS, on Sportsnet, he put his hand on the helmet and the helmet fell on the ice," Bolduc said. "For me to change (the referee's call) I have to see a video clear he did not (remove the helmet), and that's not the case. The game suspension stays."
There is no way for the Mooseheads to appeal the decision.
Halifax trails the best-of-seven series 3-2. Critchlow is third in team scoring in the post-season with 12 goals and seven assists for 19 points in 16 games along with a plus-11 rating.Mooseheads general manager Cam Russell didn't mince words on the matter.
"It's the wrong call," Russell said. "If you're going to make that call in Game 5 or Game 6 of the playoffs, you'd better be 100 per cent sure."
Russell said it's a "great rule" that should only apply when a player makes a "deliberate motion to yank or pull to take the helmet off." But he said "not at any time did (Critchlow) deliberately grab a chin strap, an ear strap, or a helmet." (Metro Halifax)
If Halifax loses Game 6 on Sunday, it will potentially be the second time in two weeks that a team captain incurs a suspension that brings an end to his time in junior, both from incidents that happened on Sportsnet's Friday Night Hockey. (Cue the jinx talk?) Only the Ottawa 67's Marc Zanetti was dead to rights; replays clearly showed his skate made contact with the back of Niagara IceDogs winger Tom Kühnhackl's head.
The league should not be expected to reverse a decision because it involves a player whose junior days could be ended by the suspension. And Critchlow, who was trying to wake up his flatlining team after it fell behind by three goals early in the game, could have chosen not to fight. At the same time, there's enough grey area here that people will wonder about the QMJHL upholding the call. The rule as written makes it clear a player in a fight has to intend to take his combatant's helmet off. The spirit of it is to keep players, in the wake of the Don Sanderson tragedy 3 1/2 years ago, from further endangering an opponent. Critchlow clearly did not do that.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.