December 17, 2011
Hockey's issues with diversity have come to the fore again, thanks to London Knights left wing Andreas Athanasiou's willingness to call out an opponent for what he saw as crossing the line.
Friday night, the 17-year-old NHL draft prospect tangled a couple times with Guelph Storm defenceman Andrey Pedan, an 18-year-old Russian whom the New York Islanders selected in last summer's NHL draft. Afterward, Athanasiou, without being directly asked if any of the chirping had a racial tinge, told John Matisz he was motivated to nail Pedan with a clean check in the game because the Storm defender allegedly had hurled racial slurs both on Friday and five days earlier when the teams met Guelph. Storm GM Mike Kelly denies the charge.
With about six minutes left in regulation, all 6-foot-1, 174 pounds of Athanasiou flew at sophomore Pedan in a corner of the Storm's end. The hit appeared to be clean and no call was made. After a whistle and the subsequent puck-drop, however, [Pedan] took out the Woodbridge, Ont., native's legs from underneath him with a blatant knee-on-knee hit.
A tripping penalty was assessed ... The Russian argued with the referee long enough to be granted a 10-minute misconduct for abuse of an official on top of the two minutes for tripping.
Athanasiou, who is of Greek descent, said Pedan insulted him with a Middle Eastern slur.
"He called me a pretty bad term today," he said, "which is not what I am, but it's unacceptable and shouldn't be in the game. Especially with the ref right there."
Pedan was unavailable for comment following the game. When reached via email, Guelph general manager Mike Kelly said Pedan denied the allegations in a conversation with him.
"He indicated that both players have been chirping each other about their playing abilities, draft status, etc., but there was no reference to race," Kelly said. (London Community News)
It's tough to write this off as a he-said, he-said deal. Athanasiou, who has a dark Mediterranean complexion, could have slept on it Friday night and then said it was no big deal. It would have died there. However, he did not back off from calling Pedan out on Saturday.
From Ryan Pyette:
Athanasiou said Pedan called him a phrase that is derogatory to people of African heritage, this only a few months after someone threw a banana on the same [John Labatt Centre] ice surface when black Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds was making a shootout attempt in an NHL exhibition game.
"It was bad," said Athanasiou, who is a potential NHL first round pick this coming summer. "It happened on Sunday, too (in Guelph). I didn't say anything to him. I was disappointed because he said it while the linesman was holding him (and nothing was done). That's not right." (London Free Press)
It is worth noting that Athanasiou says this happened in the vicinity (and presumably within earshot) of a linesman. (The fact this happened in the same building as the banana-throwing
incident three months ago is strictly and strangely coincidental.)
Pedan did get penalized for crossing the line verbally, but not necessarily for anything racial aimed at Athanasiou. Of course, in a verbal altercation that involves three or more people, it can be confusing who's yelling at who, especially when it's front of 9,000 noisy spectators.
Major junior hockey does not split hairs if there's proof a player crossed the line into using a discriminatory term. This happened exactly two weeks to the day after Acadie-Bathurst Titan defenceman Jérémie Blain got a two-game suspension for comments directed at the Shawinigan Cataractes' Jonathan Racine, who is black. Pyette reported that the Knights intend to press the matter with the league.
London GM and head coach Mark Hunter was taken aback by the alleged incident. He said he will look into the matter and could launch a complaint to the Ontario Hockey League.
"It's not something that's allowed in our game. It's not allowed in society."
The OHL has a zero-tolerance policy on racial taunts.
Zero-tolerance policies, of course, seldom foment open or thoughtful dialogue. Mostly they serve to convince the public such behaviour is not condoned, period, full stop. Meantime, if any learning occurs, it's by happenstance. That's not a shot at the Canadian Hockey League. It's just line with the rest of society; Canadians in general are loath to ever talk openly and honestly about race and ethnicity since the easy way out is to just point out that Canada is more tolerant than its southern neighbour, as if that's the place to set the bar.
It is notable that this came out since the 17-year-old Athanasiou was willing to address it. One would hope people within the OHL and NHL are big enough to realize this was a young man calling attention to something no one should have to take. Hockey culture tends to prize a stiff upper lip, so one would hope this doesn't get turned around on Athanasiou. Without judging Pedan before all the facts come in, it's important to speak up about such matters.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).