UFA, Russia — When Canadian defenceman Griffin Reinhart served his two-minute penalty for a high-sticking call against the Americans on Thursday, he did his time, skated back to the bench and thought nothing of it. His mind was focused on the semifinal game between the two nations at the world junior championship.
After the game – a 5-1 loss to the U.S. – the International Ice Hockey Federation announced it was calling a hearing to review the high-stick that caught American forward Vincent Trocheck in the head.
The stick glanced off the helmet and Trocheck was uninjured. He didn’t miss a shift.
On Friday morning the IIHF, the governing body of the tournament, suspended Reinhart for four games. Hockey Canada said it was one of the largest suspensions ever handed out at a world junior tournament.
As a result of the suspension Reinhart will miss the Canada’s bronze medal match against the Russians on Saturday.
“The referees in the play found it a two-minute penalty and I agreed with that,” said an upset Reinhart. “But a suspension of four games has definitely been a shock, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
Reinhart said he explained to the two-man disciplinary panel that he was in the process of falling and when he lost his balance his stick rode up Trocheck’s stick and accidentally made contact with the forward’s head.
“Their point of view is that I was trying to hit him in the head,” said Reinhart, the fourth-overall pick of the New York Islanders in 2012. “I respect their opinion but there’s no way they could know what I was thinking and I wasn’t thinking that at all.”
The IIHF disciplinary panel is made up of former NHL referee Dan Marouelli, a Canadian, and former NCAA hockey coach Jeff Sauer, an American.
“Griffin stated his case and said all along it was an accident, I believe it was an accident, the four officials on the ice believed it was an accident,” said Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s senior director of operations. “There’s no question in my mind we’ll appeal.”
The 18-year-old would be eligible to play in the 2014 tournament in Malmo, Sweden, but this suspension could hurt his chances of playing for Canada next year. According to Salmond, this suspension has to be served at an IIHF sanctioned event and sitting out exhibition games would not count.
“That’s a big part of my concern too,” said Salmond. “We’re not just talking about just a young player that could maybe serve what could be one of the most important games of his life [on Saturday]. That’s tough. But to say that he’s going to serve the next three next year, and not in an exhibition format but in an IIHF championship format; that’s a tough pill to swallow for me, I can only imagine the player, that’s difficult.”
Reinhart, a defenceman with the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings, said he’s only ever been suspended once before. In 2011, he was suspended five games by the WHL after receiving a five minute major and game misconduct for kneeing. This season with the Oil Kings he has 12 penalty minutes in 31 games, so he’s not exactly one of the Hanson Brothers.
“My track record is pretty good in the WHL,” said the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder. “I’m not that kind of player. I don’t play dirty. It was completely accidental and the guy wasn’t hurt on the play so I wasn’t even aware that it was going to be a hearing until late [Thursday] night.”
CHL president and OHL commissioner David Branch told Yahoo! Sports via email that Reinhart’s suspension was “for IIHF play only” and as a result would not affect his status in the WHL.
This is the third time Canada has been sanction by the IIHF at the 2013 championship. They came into the tournament shorthanded when forward Boone Jenner was suspended three games for an exhibition hit that left Sweden’s Jesper Petterson with a dislocated shoulder and broken wrist.
In round robin play, JC Lipon was suspended one game in the round robin portion of the tournament for his check to the head of Slovakia’s Tomas Mikus, who was uninjured and did not miss a shift.
“It’s too bad for him,” said Lipon of Reinhart. “I know what he’s going through, I’ve been there, and it sucks sitting out especially in a short tournament. You don’t want to sit out any games.”
Lipon said his hearing took about an hour and he, like Reinhart, went to the hearing accompanied by Salmond. The forward said Marouelli and Sauer broke down the video of his incident frame-by-frame and asked for his input.
“It’s almost like a mind game,” said Lipon. “They kind of want you to think at one point in the meeting that they’re kind of going to your side, but then at another point they’re kind of telling you that you were wrong. It’s kind of nerve-wracking.”
Lipon said the process was intimidating, especially given the importance of the every game in the tournament.
“You never want to get suspended,” said Lipon. “They don’t tell you right there [if you’re suspended]. You leave and they’re like, ‘Hey we’ll get back to you.’”
Canada has lost more games to suspension at the tournament than any other team, but Salmond doesn’t think that anyone at the IIHF is singling the team out. Lipon said the team has had a hard time coming to grips with the standard of international officiating which is far more stringent and soft than what many of the players are used to seeing in the Canadian Hockey League.
“It’s a different game for sure,” said Lipon. “With the European players being fast, you want to hit them and maybe make them a little scared to go there next time. But with the way things have been called, you get a little hesitant [to hit] and maybe make it a little easier for them. I think all the teams are being called the same way, but we always seem to be getting a few more suspensions.”
If there’s one thing the IIHF has shown at this tournament, it’s that their inconsistency doesn’t just stop on the ice.
At the 2011 tournament in Buffalo, Canada’s Zack Kassian delivered a head hit that sent Czech forward Petr Senkerik to the hospital. Kassian was only assessed two games. At the same tournament, Slovakia’s Martin Marincin was ejected from the game after leveling American forward Jason Zucker with a violent elbow to the head. The Slovakian was given an automatic one-game suspension for intent to injure and three games for the hit.
Reinhart’s infraction was tame in comparison to those plays, but his suspension was more severe.
“I think if there’s not consistency on the ice at least we should shoot for consistency off the ice,” said Salmond. “I think we owe that to the players, we owe that to the sport and I think that going forward we owe that to our coaches and our teams. Not just for Canadians, but for everyone to understand. What does [one] game look like? What does two games look like? What does four games look like? “You can debate intent and debate the consequences, but I’m more concerned with consistency.”
In the meantime, Reinhart will be forced to sit in the stands for the bronze-medal game. And with his future on the team next year cloudy, if the suspension stands, it was also one missed chance to don a Team Canada jersey.
“Playing against Russia [on Saturday], I want to be part of that game,” said Reinhart. “It’s the last game of the tournament, so it’s really devastating for me.”