Monday, 16 September 2019

Maybe Try Sportsmanship?

If there was one thing that I went to the penalty box for more than anything else in my playing days as a defenceman, it was when someone touched my goaltender. It's an unwritten rule that goalies are off-limits when it comes to bodychecks - intentional or not - and there's often a price to pay for those who decide to ignore that rule and bump the goalie. Or worse. On Saturday night, there was a clear instance of "worse" in a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League game between the visiting Yorkton Terriers and the Melville Millionaires. This play didn't tip-toe around the line. It was flat-out intentional with what appeared to be an aim to kill.

With ten minutes to play in the third period and the Millionaires leading 5-1 over the Terriers, the Terriers' Greg Mulhall chipped the puck past the Millionaires defenders while shorthanded and raced up the ice hoping to corral the loose puck. With no defenders standing between the net and Mulhall, Millioanires netminder Berk Berkeliev came out to try and clear the puck away before Mulhall could get there. What happened next is entirely abhorrent and disgusting.
Watch the clip again and notice that Mulhall doens't slow up, leans into the check, uses his arms to deliver the full blow, and Berkeliev's helmet go flying off towards his net. Ladies and gentlemen, that is one of the most brutal checks I've ever seen thrown not just at a goaltender, but by any player on another player. Needless to say, Berkeliev was hurt on the play, and it seems that one of the Millionaires tried to pummel Mulhall before the pile of players who followed landed on top of Mulhall and the Millionaires defender.

Mulhall, for what it's worth, received a game misconduct for what the officials deemed as intent to injure.

After Berkeliev spent the night at the hospital, details about his injuries were revealed today. According to Millionaires head coach and general manager Kyle Adams who spoke to CBC, "Berkeliev was knocked out and suffered a concussion, a cut in his upper lip that required eight to 10 stitches, another cut on the back of his head that required five stitches and some missing teeth". Adams added that he was released from hospital on Sunday morning, but was to head back to the hospital today "to undergo a CT scan of his brain Monday because of the concussion symptoms."

"You know, it was one of the dirtiest plays in hockey I've ever seen in all my years of playing and coaching," Adams told Kelly Provost of the CBC. I'd have a hard time finding any disagreement with that statement when you consider the damage that Mulhall did to Berkeliev with that hit. As stated above, goalies are off-limits for even incidental contact, so throwing a check like Mulhall did should warrant a considerable vacation from the game of hockey, if not more.

Today, the SJHL Discipline Committee did rule on the hit, and Mulhall was handed the longest suspension in recent SJHL history as he was given a 25-game suspension. According to SJHL President Bill Chow, one of the three people on the Discipline Committee, it was decided that Mulhall's hit wasn't a hockey play, prompting the long length of the suspension which should deter others from committing these reckless acts of violence.

"He made no intention to play the puck," Chow said to Provost. "He went strictly to play the body. And you got a goalie that's in a vulnerable position."

As per the CBC report, "Adams said he was satisfied with the 25-game suspension, but was hoping it was going to be even longer."

"To me, that was the minimum that he should have got," Adams said. "So I am pleased that this league did step forward and put a harsh suspension on the player."

What perhaps needs to be said here that wasn't said in the CBC story was that this game was already on the verge of chaos based on the penalties that were being handed out. Melville recorded 18 minutes in penalties, including a ten minute misconduct, while Yorkton committed six minor penalties in the opening period alone. The second period saw Melville take 14 more minutes, including a second ten-minute misconduct while Yorkton add 26 minutes in penalties that featured two ten-minute misconducts, one of which was assessed to Mulhall after he was called for roughing late in the period. And in the ten minutes leading up to the brutal check by Mulhall, Melville added 34 more minutes by way of two ten-minute misconducts and a game misconduct while Yorkton added another 19 minutes via a fight and a game misconduct.

In total, Melville committed 23 penalties for 143 minutes in penalties while Yorkton recorded 86 minutes in penalties on 20 infractions. Clearly, the officials were struggling to keep some kind of order in this game based on how these two teams were going at one another. I'd fault both coaches on that, so we need to be a little mindful of who is innocent here when looking at the big picture. There's no doubt that goaltender the hit that goaltender Berk Berkeliev is a clear match penalty, but it seems the rough stuff that had been happening all throughout the game may have been a prelude to this event. Again, that falls on the coaches to rein in their players so that we never get to a point where a player decides to throw a hit like one that Mulhall threw on Berkeliev.

Regardless of all this, I just hope that Berkeliev gets out of this with his senses intact and he can return to the game. Mulhall will have lots of time to reflect on his poor life choices while he awaits the 25 games to elapse if he's still on Yorkton's roster at that time. Kudos to the SJHL and President Bill Chow and the Discipline Committee for throwing the book at Mulhall for his poor decision that will cost Berkeliev a pile of time in his recovery from this brainless hit.

Actions have consequences, folks, and this suspension is a consequence that carries a heavy message.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: