TORONTO – Rick Rypien is going to get a chance to explain his actions before the NHL determines how many games the Vancouver Canucks forward will sit out.
The league’s decision to give Rypien an indefinite suspension on Wednesday only indicates that disciplinarian Colin Campbell believes a ban of six games or more might be appropriate after Rypien grabbed a 28-year-old fan named James Engquist in Minnesota a night earlier.
First, Rypien will be given his day in court. And the league isn’t required to come down hard on him just because his hearing will be held in person.
“We’ll let things unfold from here,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday night before the Canucks’ game in Chicago. “I’m going to save my comments until after the league does their investigation and comes up with a decision.”
Vigneault said he expected the hearing with Campbell to be held Friday.
According to Exibit 8 of the collective bargaining agreement, Rypien can present evidence in support of his position when he sits down for a meeting with Campbell and representatives from the Canucks and NHL Players’ Association. Commissioner Gary Bettman is also expected to sit in.
The NHL will have no official comment until the matter is resolved.
Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis, however, addressed the incident Wednesday night during the Canucks’ game in Chicago.
“This was totally unexpected,” said Gillis. “In our experience with Rick, we never expected anything like this to occur. He’s been a solid guy on our team. He’s a good teammate, good in the community. It was something completely unexpected. Sometimes things happen, and you have to deal with them. You don’t anticipate any event like that from a player of Rick’s stature. There were events that led up to it, and we’re going to support him.”
The incident occurred while Rypien was on the way to the visiting dressing room after losing his cool during the second period and being assessed a double minor for roughing along with a 10-minute misconduct. On his way down the tunnel, Rypien briefly grabbed Engquist who was applauding at the railing.
Engquist told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that he’s “definitely seeking legal representation. … I was assaulted, that’s just the bottom line.”
“I was just standing straight up applauding as he was getting kicked out,” Engquist said. “He was out of control. And then I said, ‘Way to be professional,’ and he obviously didn’t care for that comment and decided to grab me and almost dragged me over the rail. If my brother wasn’t grabbing me and the other player wasn’t grabbing him, he probably would have dragged me over the edge.”
Campbell doesn’t have any recent precedent to consult when trying to determine how long Rypien should sit out. Matthew Barnaby was suspended four games in December 2000 for an incident that looked quite similar—while playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Barnaby got into it with a fan in the tunnel on his way to the dressing room.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Tie Domi received a $1,000 fine in March 2001 after mixing it up with a fan in Philadelphia. Domi squirted the man with a water bottle from the penalty box before punching him a couple times after he pushed on the glass and fell in.
The last suspension stemming from a fan incident went to New York Rangers coach John Tortorella, who was forced to miss one game during the 2009 playoffs after throwing a water bottle into the stands in Washington.
“They always look at previous experience and whether there’s a tendency or prior history in this type of event,” Gillis said. “We’re hopeful they’ll consider every factor. We’re going to work with the league, abide by their decision, and get the best result we can for Rick and our team.”
Sports leagues are understandably sensitive when players get involved with the paying customers—particularly after the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons went in the stands and fought with fans in November 2004.
The league’s pending decision on Rypien comes during a busy stretch. Campbell has handed out seven suspensions and issued four fines over the last month.
The six players suspended before Rypien forfeited a total of US$228,058.62 in salary and the Canucks forward could end up adding a fair bit to that amount. He’s earning $575,000 this season.
The 26-year-old is a depth player for Vancouver, having racked up nine goals and 15 points in 113 career NHL games.
Tuesday’s incident with the fan came with the Canucks trailing 5-1. Rypien and Minnesota’s Brad Staubitz, who fought earlier in the game, tried to square off at 13:38 of the second period but got separated by an official in front of the Wild bench. Rypien punched Staubitz while he was being restrained.
Linesman Don Henderson pulled Rypien toward the Vancouver bench, and the Canucks forward appeared to push the official. He then grabbed the fan.
Rypien didn’t travel with the team to Chicago.
With files from The Associated Press.