The start of the British season has rarely been so controversial. Aside from the jokes about the Steelers black ice the disciplinary committees have too been busy. It is not for the first time either that serious misdemeanours by players have put the sports officiating in spotlight.
Last seasons baseball swing by Nottinghamâ€™s Kelsey Wilson gave the EIHLâ€™s new disciplinary procedures a work out but a 3 match ban handed out by then head Simon Kirkham was not a deterrent enough against thuggish behaviour. This season started with a sucker punch in open play by Nottinghamâ€™s Brent Henley on Fifeâ€™s Jordan Fulton whilst in the EPL a man no stranger to disciplinary hearings Andrew Sharp kicked Michael Wales whilst the Slough Jets man was on the ice.Â Even in preseason there were head butts and blind side attacks on players.
There is nothing wrong with physical play and hard hitting. That is part of the game and with that it has to be accepted that sometimes players can mistime or miss target a hit. Of course on those occasions the player should be punished and additional action taken. The aforementioned incidents however are not mistimed or miss targeted. They are attacks and it has to be questioned if a match penalty is really enough and the policy of taking each incident on its merits is really working.
The latter certainly applies to Andrew Sharp. Sharp whilst a member of the Sheffield Steelers in 2008 was given a 20 game ban by the EIHL for a spear and his part in a clearance brawl. Again these incidents are not part of a physical game they are cheap shots by a player who has lost his head by being beaten in that physical game. If such attacks are not discouraged by sterner penalties and even harsher ones for repeat offenders it will only be a matter of time before there is a serious injury. That is to say nothing of the reputation of the league and the sport in this country.
That reputation is currently taking a battering by the lack of decision coming from the EIHA on the Sharp case. No decision has been made on the length of the penalty for Sharp and Slough forward Ryan Watt who was involved in the brawl as well. This has left fans in the dark as the EIHA disciplinary board seemingly bickers over the penalty. Neither Sharp nor Watt will play a part in this weekends games though will hopefully suggest a length ban is coming.
In order to attract bigger and better sponsorships and more fans our leagues cannot allow themselves to become a destination for the thugs of our sport. The public want to see the fast skilful play that only comes from ice hockey. They also want to physical play and if that leads to fights the fights should be a straight up contest not an attack akin to a football riot. Perhaps players in the UK should be reminded of what NHLers said about one of the greatest in our sport. If Gordie Howe didnâ€™t like what you did to him or one of his teammates he would get you back. It may not be in that game but that massive hit would come.