Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Punishment should fit the crime, not the damage - Liambas vs Fanelli

Earlier this week, an OHL hockey player was injured after a crushing bodycheck from an opponent.

I hadn't seen the hit until just now, but I'd heard about it from others.

I don't know the players involved, but from what I can tell through a brief search, the hitter - Michael Liambas - is a bit of a douchebag on the ice as this ridiculously dirty hit on John Tavares demonstrates.

The recent incident resulted in a match penalty for boarding to Liambas and a trip to the hospital for Ben Fanelli, who was upgraded from critical to serious condition at last report.

Today, Liambas was suspended by the OHL for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs. This would make it one of the harshest suspensions ever handed down.

And it is completely b.s.

The hit was devastating, no doubt about it, but it should have resulted in a two minute charging penalty at most.

With all due respect to Ben Fanelli - and I'm sure EVERYONE wishes him a speedy recovery - the injury (skull and facial fractures) was a result of his head hitting the glass and the metal divider and not from the hit itself. Liambas did not leave his feet, nor was this a "head shot" (not every head injury is a result of a "head shot", the expression-du-jour in contact sports these days). Minus the debatable charge, the hit was clean.

Boarding is typically the result of a hit from behind, and some will argue that that is the case here. Bull. Liambas catches Fanelli in the back shoulder, but only because Fanelli turns to fire the puck the other way and possibly to protect himself at the very last moment.

As any experienced hockey player will tell you, this is exactly what NOT to do. Bracing yourself against the boards is the best way to minimize the impact of a hit. Turning your back is suicidal. It's hard to tell from the video if Fanelli protected himself at all or was simply getting rid of the puck.

Unfortunately, Fanelli's positioning resulted in him being spun violently into the boards where his head hit the glass and divider. The force of the impact with the glass knocked him unconcious and he fell to the ice, his helmet having been dislodged in the process.

Lesson number two in this situation is that players should be required to have their chin straps secured firmly.

It appears the OHL is not punishing the hit, but rather the damage. If Fanelli gets up, there's likely no match penalty, never mind a suspension. But when a player is seriously hurt, there's this sense that something drastic has to be done to balance the scales of justice - even when no crime was committed. The suspension is often in proportion to the injury, rather than the act.

Why is that?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: attempted murder should be punishable in the same way as murder. It isn't because you failed in the attempt that you should be "rewarded" with a lighter sentence. In other words, we should judge the act and intent, not the damage. In this case, the hit was essentially clean, though devastating.

So why the massive suspension?

The league talks about "respect" and "sending a message". But what's the message? What's the lesson to be learned here? Since there was nothing really wrong with the hit, and hits will happen in the future, what "message" does the league hope to convey and have heeded by the players?

This is a punishment based on politics and perception, and not on the facts or the acts.

It's tragic that Fanelli was injured on the play, but it isn't Liambas' fault.

I hope Fanelli has a full and speedy recovery.