September 27, 2011
The Ontario Hockey League, suffice to say, is not wasting time joining the brave new world of supplemental discipline that Brendan Shanahan has ushered into the big league.
Tuesday, the OHL suspended three players for a total of 28 games for incidents from last weekend. The length of the suspensions is one talking point — Ottawa 67's left wing and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Dalton Smith, for instance, got 10 games for running an opposing goalie when many thought he'd sit down for five at most — but it is another entirely since the league is now providing a discipline rationale with video of the offending incidents. Along with Smith, the Oshawa Generals' Scott Sabourin has been suspended 12 games for a checking-to-head major and game misconduct last Friday in Kingston and Guelph Storm's Brock McGinn is sitting for six for a checking-from-behind major.
Perhaps this is too optimistic by half, but this might signal a change in focus with supplemental discipline — from punishing the sinner to suggesting others think of how to avoid the sin. The OHL knows the next-geners who play in the league are visual learners, so having an explanation that's framed in terms of respecting opponents could be very positive.
Anger and outrage are often spawned by confusion and misunderstanding; whether fans agree with the penalty, at least now there's are explanation that people may take or leave. For instance, the video of Smith colliding with the Belleville Bulls' Malcolm Subban last Friday explains "Smith makes no attempt to avoid goaltender" and "Smith extends arm/shoulder upwards" before there's a "direct blow to head." Subban needed the Belleville trainer's attention but completed the game and started the Bulls' game the next night.
Likewise, Sabourin's ban is justified by the league because "Sabourin travels considerable distance" to hit a "Kingston player in vulnerable position." Similarly, with McGinn, the league believed he had "opportunity to avoid/lessen severity of contact" with Owen Sound Attack defenceman Jake Dotchin who was "checked forcefully from behind."
It is a new step for a junior league to be so forthcoming about how it makes such decisions. This could become the norm soon; QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau said today he'd like to further explain his league's decisions on suspensions. It is in keeping with trying to educate players on what's acceptable on the ice. It also ties into the sports world's long-overdue realization that its stakeholders who support deserve an explanation. Refusing to explain can come off as defensive and hurt the product's credibility. (It's not for nothing a couple of TV partners of the NFL, the most-wagered-upon sports league, have former director of officiating Mike Pereira on staff to explain controversial calls.)
This alone won't be a cure-all for avoidable hits and reducing injuries. It might be ironic, on that latter count, the OHL brought the hammer down the same day Rouyn-Noranda Huskies centre Anthony Verret returned to practice after suffering four facial fractures from a check to the head in a QMJHL game that is still being reviewed. However, it's definitely prescriptive, since it's helping make it clear where's the line between good, aggressive hockey and unchecked aggression.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: CHL Images).