The helpless feeling a player kept from suiting up with his teammates ... what's not to get?
Last May, Cameron Critchlow experienced that when he was suspended for what proved to be the end of his ride in the Quebec League with the Halifax Mooseheads. He was suspended for Game 6 of the semifinal series vs. the Rimouski Océanic under a rule calling for an automatic one-game ban to any player who pulls off an opponent's helmet in a fight, although it appeared gravity caused the helmet to fall off. It was a bullflop suspension. Now Critchlow, whose UNB Varsity Reds are trying to win the University Cup for the fourth time in seven seasons, is again separated from the pack for the most critical games of the season after a controversial suspension. This time, it wasn't over him being suspended, but over how long.
The regular season in all three men's hockey conferences in Canadian Interuniversity Sport is only 28 games, 40 per cent the length of a major junior schedule. Yet Atlantic University Sport gave Critchlow five games for his leaping headshot during Game 1 of the Subway AUS Final vs. rival Saint Mary's. No penalty was called, but it was a bad hit. The suspension was upheld Wednesday.
"Cam Critchlow had tears in his eyes watching the opening ceremonies and not being able to be with his teammates." - UNB A.D. John Richard
— Nick Murray (@NickMurray91) March 15, 2013
"You work so hard to get to this point all year and it kind of feels like it's taken away from you." - Cam Critchlow.
— Nick Murray (@NickMurray91) March 15, 2013
The five-game ban completely (conveniently?) covered the remainder of that AUS final and all three games second-seeded UNB will play at the University Cup in Saskatoon, Sask., if it makes Sunday's final. Critchlow has four more seasons of eligibility. The V-Reds, who are the best-positioned team to reach Sunday's final after beating host Saskatchewan on Thursday, will surely get back to the dance at least 2-3 more times over that span. (Some UNB fans might reply to that with, "Only three?" never mind two.) Still, the hurt is relatable.
UNB agreed there had to be something. But five games?
No penalty was called on the play and therefore the Huskies sent the video footage to the AUS for review. AUS executive director Phil Currie reviewed the play and ruled on the suspension last Tuesday.
UNB athletic director John Richard ... said he hopes the appeal will see Critchlow play in the national championships.
“We feel the appeal shows that the severity of the suspension, considering it involves games in the AUS finals and the CIS nationals, doesn’t match the incident and isn’t consistent with other decisions made this season,” said Richard. “We respect and concede that the unfortunate incident needed some sort of discipline, we just don’t agree with the level assigned to Mr. Critchlow.” (The Brunswickan)
It's possible Currie pulled a Branch, so to speak, by handing down a stiff sanction at a time when his conference has commanding the most public attention. A five-game ban in March gets more attention than one in November, although there is a year-long passionate following for AUS hockey.
Still, the head trauma ...
However, this might come back to the difficult process of trying to limit the risk of brain trauma in hockey without taking out the rough-hewn elements we know and love. Contact and collision sports are going to have to change their ways sooner rather than later. (Tyler Dellow, @mc79hockey, had a thought-provoking Twitter exchange today about concussions and mental illness.) This isn't exactly news that the hockey world's tried to accept progress in treating brain trauma on its own terms. It's been on the sport's porch since my late friend Earl McRae wrote his "Requiem for Reggie" piece about enforcer Reggie Fleming nearly 40 years ago, before I was even alive.
Five games in a league with a 28-game regular season is severe if pro-rated to the length of a CHL or NHL schedule. A counter-point could be that's irrelevant here. The Varsity Reds and any team which is good enough to make the University Cup is practically a de facto minor pro team, but it still answers to an athletic department and an educational institutions. Call this ivory-tower, but perhaps university hockey should be more severe with cracking down on head shots. How you explain that to a crestfallen Cameron Critchlow, I imagine, would be exceedingly difficult.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.