January 07, 2010
Please recall in October when 16-year-old Kitchener Rangers defenseman Ben Fanelli was hit from behind from then-Erie Otters forward Michael Liambas. Fanelli suffered skull and facial fractures and hasn't returned to playing in the Ontario Hockey League since the hit. The end result for Liambas was a season-long suspension that eventually saw him bolt for the Bloomington PrairieThunder of the International Hockey League, a team that he played eight games for during the 2008-09 season.
Just over a month into his second IHL stint, Liambas found himself in hot water for another hit from behind. During a game on Dec. 29, Liambas hit Jason Lawmaster of the Muskegon Lumberjacks from behind near the team benches, causing the forward to rupture his spleen and spend four days in a local hospital. No penalty was given on the play. But after reviewing the play for a few days, IHL commissioner Dennis Hextall and vice president of hockey operations Brad Jones decided on a five game suspension for Liambas.
After the incident, Liambas said he believed the hit was "normal" and told the Bloomington Pantagraph, "He was on his way down a little bit as I finished the check." Lawmaster thought the hit wasn't of the malicious variety as he told the Muskegon Chronicle, "I think it was just a fluke thing. We were both falling and I don't think he was trying to blow up my spleen. It was just a weird situation how I fell. I guess I'd have to see the tape. You don't hit somebody hard intentionally to blow up their spleen."
The Chronicle reports that Lawmaster's recovery may take 6-8 weeks.
Unfortunately, video hasn't surfaced on the Internet for us to judge the hit, but you have a play where no penalty was called, the victim called it a "fluke thing," and the player delivering the hit having a history. With the hockey community attempting to crack down on head shots and dangerous hits from behind, it's no surprise that Liambas was suspended, no matter whether the hit was a suspendable offense or not in many eyes. Like we've seen with many NHL suspensions, the fact that Lawmaster was seriously injured likely played a large factor in the Liambas decision.