Columbus Cottonmouths coach Jerome Bechard and forward Craig Simchuk could be facing lengthy suspensions from the SPHL following an ugly incident over the weekend that resulted in Peoria Rivermen goaltender Kyle Rank being stretchered off the ice.
The incident that’s being reviewed by the SPHL occurred in the second frame of Saturday’s game between Columbus and Peoria. Shortly after Peoria took a 4-1 lead two minutes into the second period, Simchuk came down the ice and skated right into Rank, shoving the netminder into the goalpost. Video of the incident, via YouTube user montgomeryt5h, can be seen below:
Simchuk was immediately escorted off the ice and handed a game misconduct and major penalty for attempt to injure. Off the next faceoff, the two teams engaged in a line brawl that resulted in a combined 46 penalty minutes. The penalties didn’t end there, though. Before the second period was over, Bechard was given a bench minor for abuse of officials and a game misconduct for stepping onto the ice.
Rank stayed down for several minutes before being taken off the ice on a stretcher and was taken to hospital. According to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer’s Matt Hester, Rank left hospital Sunday and travelled with the Rivermen to their Sunday game in Huntsville, Ala. Rank suffered a concussion on the play.
"[Rank] was released early this morning and will continue to be evaluated and monitored in Peoria during the coming days and weeks," the Rivermen said via their official Facebook page.
Following the game, Rivermen coach Jean-Guy Trudel told Hester that Bechard had ordered his players to injure Rank, who is the two-time defending SPHL goaltender of the year.
“[Bechard] will deny it, but he was yelling from the bench (in the first period) he was gonna do it, everyone heard it," Trudel told the Peoria Journal Star. "Jerome Bechard should never coach in this league again. What happened tonight was despicable, an embarrassment to the SPHL.
"You start yelling you are going to hurt the goaltender, and then first shift of the second period your guy goes and does it. No player in his right mind is going to do that unless he is order(ed) to do it.”
Bechard denied that he ordered his players to take out Rank — and Bechard called the suggestion by Trudel “unprofessional” — but said his team was growing frustrated from what they perceived to be shots taken at goaltender Shannon Szabados. Szabados had been bowled over in Friday’s game and remained down, but no penalty was called on the play. Bechard said there was also contact with the goaltender Saturday night.
"Frustration broiled over, not only just from when their guys running into Shannon on Saturday, but from when they knocked her down on Friday night as well," Bechard told Hester. "I warned the ref that they're going to have a blood bath on their hands if they don't do something soon. Unfortunately, it was too late.”
Post-game, Simchuk said he wasn’t ordered to run into Rank by Bechard and echoed that the team had simply grown frustrated with the contact Szabados was receiving.
"By no means did I want to injure Kyle Rank,” Simchuk told Hester. “He’s a great goalie and I wish him the best. Can't say what I did was smart and I 100 percent take back what I did. I feel awful, but sometimes players have to takes things on for themselves and protect our own.”
The SPHL hasn’t said when the league will come to a conclusion about suspension lengths for Bechard and Simchuk, nor have they announced whether other players involved in Saturday’s game will face discipline. Columbus doesn’t play again until Wednesday when they visit Fayetteville, N.C., to play the FireAntz.