The Owen Sound Attack will start their playoff run without the services of leading scorer Mike Halmo, who was suspended for 10 games on Friday by the Ontario Hockey League.
The Attack captain hammered Sarnia Sting star Nail Yakupov, who was cutting across the ice with his head down, during the second period of Sarnia's 4-0 victory on March 10.
Halmo, who recently signed a three-year entry level contact with the New York Islanders, was assessed a five-minute charging major and a game misconduct. It should also be noted that the 20-year-old forward is a repeat offender which weighed into the OHL's decision.
Here's the hit:
The Attack have two regular season games remaining, which means they'll lose Halmo -- a 40-goal scorer in the regular season (85 points) -- for eight playoff games. Adding to Owen Sound head coach Greg Ireland's woes is the fact his team's first round opponent is likely to be the Sting. If the Attack fail to reach the second round, the overage Halmo will have already played his last OHL game.
In a strange turn of events, the league told the Attack it would be fine for Halmo to suit up for their next game against the Plymouth Whalers. After the game however, the OHL decided to suspend Halmo indefinitely while deciding his his fate.
"I was going to hold [Halmo] out," Attack general manager Dale DeGray told the Owen Sound Sun-Times. "They said they looked at it and they didn't feel there were any issues. Then they said that they thought that it should be reviewed (after looking at different camera angles of the incident). I'm a little frustrated (by this reversal)."
As for Yakupov, the projected top pick at the 2012 NHL entry draft, the Sting have been rather vague about his status while keeping him out of their remaining games (he's already missed two and with the Sting in the playoffs it doesn't make much sense to risk re-injury against London or Plymouth). On Thursday, Russian reporter Andrey Osadchenko reported Yakupov as saying, 'I'm more alive than anybody will ever be!' and then adding six smiley-faces. No word on how many exclamation! points! were included, but it sounds like Yakupov will live, despite having suffered a cut to his face. According to the Sting, he will be re-evaluated before the playoffs begin next week.
The Attack will have forward Daniel Zweep in the lineup for the playoffs after they were told by the league that he would not be facing further sanction for a hit during the second period of their game against Plymouth on Sunday.
Despite that little consolation, this decision has to be a bitter one for the Attack after watching star player Joey Hishon lose an entire season after taking an elbow to the head last year at the Memorial Cup. This hit garnered a one-game suspension from the tournament disciplinarians.
A one game suspension was more than London forward Max Domi received for this hit on Attack import forward Arturs Gavrus -- who was knocked unconscious. There was no penalty called on the play and Gavrus missed more than six weeks with a concussion.
It's interesting to see how the OHL distinguishes between the Halmo and Domi hits. Both puck carriers have their heads down and both hitters seem to make contact with the head -- the difference might be inches. In one case, inches that could cost Mike Halmo the final games of his junior career.