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American League means business when dealing with headshots

Dan Kelly of the Albany Devils received a 10-game suspension for his vicious headshot on Andreas Johnson of the Toronto Marlies. It's not the first big suspension in the AHL for a headshot this season.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Dan Kelly of the Albany Devils made it oh-so-easy for the American League to toss the book at him. In fact, Andreas Johnson of the Toronto Marlies hadn’t even gotten up off the ice from the vicious headshot Kelly laid on him Tuesday night before people were predicting a double-digit suspension for him.

Clearly, Mr. Kelly has a difficult time learning to keep from hitting other players in the head, since he had already been suspending a game in December and another game last season for the same offense. Johnson, on the other hand, got almost no time to get accustomed to the learning curve when it comes to violence in North American professional hockey. After playing three years in the Swedish Elite League, he came over after the playoffs this year and was playing in just his second AHL game. The idea for him was to get a taste of the league before coming over to play full-time next season, not to get his head almost taken off.

What you have to like about this suspension was its decisiveness and efficiency. No long drawn-out hearing – the AHL is not like the NHL in that it does not require a hearing with the player before suspending him and also unlike the NHL, the Professional Hockey Players’ Association has no role in the process. There was nobody talking about how Johnson might have had his head down or the fact that Kelly is 6-foot-1 and Johnson is 5-foot-10 so what else was Kelly supposed to do? None of this finishing his check garbage, no talk about whether or not Johnson put himself in a vulnerable position. AHL commissioner David Andrews, unencumbered by any outside influences, just gave out a good, old-fashioned long suspension, one that will carry into the regular season if Kelly’s 10 games can’t be served in the playoffs.

Of course, Andrews and his assistant Mike Murray are used to doing this by now. If you can believe it, the Kelly suspension was the 84th they’ve handed out this season totaling 143 games. In fact, not too many days go by where your trusty correspondent doesn’t open his email to find out another AHL miscreant has been suspended. Part of that is because of the nature of the AHL and the fact that there are still a good number of one-dimensional players in that league. But some of it has to be because Andrews and Murray basically have the unfettered ability to make judgments they see fit.

Of the 84 suspensions the AHL has handed out this season, 18 of them have been for hits to the head. Compare that to the NHL, which has given out six suspensions for headshots this season, the longest of which was the 41-game sentence handed to Raffi Torres in the pre-season, one that was so lengthy because of his status as a repeat offender. The AHL handed out another doozy this season, 12 games to Kurtis MacDermid of the Ontario Reign in December for a headshot to San Diego Gulls winger Matt Bailey. The league also gave five games to Zac Rinaldo of the Providence Bruins for a headshot this season.

The NHL had one-third the number of headshot suspensions the AHL had this season and overall has so far given out 41 suspensions totaling 116 games. (That does not include the 20-games handed to Shawn Horcoff and Jarred Tinordi for violating the substance abuse program, nor the 10-gamer that was given to Dennis Wideman for abuse of official. None of those was handled by the Department of Player Safety.)

It does make one wonder, doesn’t it? Why is it that leagues such as the AHL and the Ontario League, where commissioner David Branch has no tolerance for this kind of thing, can have so many more suspensions and stiffer sentences? Is it because players in those leagues are more rambunctious and less cognizant of the consequences of their actions? That probably has something to do with it. Is it because those leagues do not have to jump through all sorts of administrative hoops nor with a powerful players’ association when they decide to suspend a player? You’d have to think that’s a factor as well.

In any event, it’s clear the AHL doesn’t mess around with this kind of thing. And good for it. Perhaps Mr. Kelly and some of the other headhunters in that league will begin to get the message.



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