Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Steve Downie suspended 20 games for illegal hit

We backtrack seven days to an incident that the National Hockey League did not need.

Having already dealt with what happened on March 8th when Chris Simon clocked New York Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg with baseball-like swing of his stick and was given a 25-game suspension for it, what unfolded on September 25th can easily be said punishment was needed.

During a preseason game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators from Scotiabank Place that night, Flyers forward Steve Downie laid out one of the most vicious hits ever applied onto another in the field of battle. This tilt between these two Eastern Conference rivals didn't have any meaning other than fringe players doing everything they can to impress the coaching staffs and make their teams.

Three days before then, I saw Downie get into a fight with Rangers forward Hugh Jessiman and he wasn't exactly playing within the "unwritten" rules of conduct... what I mean by that was he was playing on the dirty side. He even scored two goals in the Flyers' 5-0 preseason victory and I already wanted this guy's head pasted against plexiglass.

But early in the second period of Tuesday's game in Ottawa, Downie decided to try to make a name for himself. But it turned out to be for the wrong reasons though. He saw Senators forward Dean McAmmond circling behind the Flyers net from the opposite side and at full speed sent him flying dangerously into the backboards. It resulted in McAmmond's second signficant concussion in this calendar year. McAmmond had to leave the game on a stretcher and wouldn't return.

video courtesy: NHL/Rogers Cable

Then on Friday, the National Hockey League handed down a surprising, but swift 20-game suspension against Downie. Was it enough? Was it too much or too little? It certainly is up for debate, but I can tell you that the NHL did its best to send a message. That would be that they're serious about cracking down on head hunters. If you've seen replays of this incident, keep in mind that Downie left his feet to deliver what is ruled as an illegal hit. If you would like to check out one report in particular that I saw myself, CTV News provided some good coverage of this story following the announcement of Downie's suspension. CBC News' Nancy Wilson and Tom Harrington sat down for a chat last week to discuss the impact of what took place (select the Hockey Night in Canada video clip "CBC News Today: Controversial Hit") and The Sports Network (TSN) had a full highlight package on the incident as well.

What I didn't understand was that early last week, Simon was allowed to play in what turned out to be a fight-filled preseason affair against the Rangers, this being in the very same venue where his disgraceful act took place five months earlier. He ended up getting into a fight with Hollweg in this game as well. Oh, the irony here. Simon still has to finish up his 25-game suspension during this month.

There is no doubt that the physical part of the game of hockey must never be reduced or taken out of it. It is like National Football League players only being allowed to play flag football. But there has to be a precedence set that none of this unacceptable conduct in games such as what Simon did and what Downie just committed will be tolerated. Perhaps the 20 games will give Downey the time to think about it. Maybe the Flyers feel he'll need more time than that as they immediately sent him down to their American Hockey League affiliate just across the Wachovia Sports Complex. To some observers that may feel that instead of playing dirty, Downie would earn a roster spot with the Flyers the right way. That would be playing his heart out for the Philadelphia Phantoms.

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