After doing his due diligence in assessing Michael Liambas’ hit on Ben Fanelli, Ontario League commissioner David Branch has sent a clear message that attempts to injure will not be tolerated and those who are found guilty of such actions will pay a steep price.
The price for Liambas: the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.
It’s certainly of little satisfaction to Fanelli – who remains in hospital after being knocked unconscious and sustaining cuts to his face – his family and his teammates that Liambas’ OHL career will end as a result of the sentence.
Opinions will surely be varied on the severity of the punishment based on perceptions of the hit (only Liambas really knows what his intentions were) and how much Fanelli’s chinstrap and helmet played a role in his injury. Heated debates have already popped up around The Hockey News office when word of the suspension came out.
In my opinion, Branch, who has long been seen as tough but fair in his supplementary discipline rulings, hit the mark again. Fanelli’s injuries (the most recent update has his condition upgraded from critical, but stable to serious, but stable) certainly played a role in Branch’s ruling; had the result of the hit not been so frightening and the consequences so dire, the penalty surely would not have been as severe.
And while intent, not consequence, should normally lead the logic behind punishment, the fact a young man’s life will forever be changed must have entered the equation. In a sport where questionable hits are becoming the norm, this particular instance stands out as exceptional.
With only five goals and 13 points to go along with 357 PIMs in 124 career OHL games, it was quite clear what Liambas’ role is. He got to where he is by pushing the boundaries; by striking fear into opponents through teetering on the line of legal play. Add that to past indiscretions and justifying the judgment becomes that much easier.
In his ruling, Branch suggests, “players must understand they shall be held accountable for their actions. We must all work towards improving the level of respect players have towards opposing players and the game in general.”
That, of course, is so much easier said than done. During research for a potential magazine cover story about respect in the game, THN staffers talked to a wide array of people involved in hockey, including current and former players, about the topic. Few were able to pin down where the lack of respect stems from – assuming things are worse now, and that’s an assumption, not a widely accepted fact – or what can be done to create a balance in a violent game.
As Rory Boylen pointed out in his blog Tuesday, injuries are going to happen and no amount of legislation around hitting and head shots will prevent that.
Liambas’ one-year ban, however, will hopefully resonate through the hockey ranks and keep players on the ice, instead of in the hospital.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears Thursdays.
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