OHL suspends Liambas for season after brutal hit; is it fair?

There's no question that the hit from behind on 16-year-old Kitchener Rangers defenseman Ben Fanelli by Erie Otters forward Michael Liambas was irresponsible and dangerous. A fractured skull, facial fractures and the news shared in the CBC clip above from Saturday that he was "breathing on his own" indicate the level of devastation on the play.

The 20-year-old Liambas was assessed a match penalty for his hit, and the gruesome scene (video) and subsequent injuries naturally pointed to supplemental discipline from the OHL.

But suspended for the rest of the season? On a play that observers like Elliotte Friedman see as a symptom of the current game's rules and speed than anything malicious?

This ruling is going to light powder kegs on both sides of the debate regarding supplemental discipline for injurious body checks. Coming up, the OHL's justification and a passionate defense of Liambas's play as a clean hit.

From the OHL:

The Ontario Hockey League today announced the results of its review of an incident which occurred in the game played in Kitchener on Friday, October 30th, 2009 between the Kitchener Rangers and the visiting Erie Otters.

The incident in question involved player Michael Liambas of the Erie Otters who was assessed a match penalty for boarding as the result of his hit on Kitchener Rangers player Ben Fanelli who sustained an injury to the head on the play.

In making the announcement as the result of the review, Commissioner David Branch stated that..."players must understand they shall be held accountable for their actions. We must all work towards improving the level of respect players have towards opposing players and the game in general."

"It is the position of the Ontario Hockey League that player Michael Liambas of the Erie Otters Hockey Club be suspended for the balance of the 2009-10 playing season including playoffs."

Take another few looks at the hit in question:

Victor Fernandes, a writer for GoErie.com, predicted a minimum of 20 games for Laimbas yesterday; but, at the same time, defending his actions:

The hit was clean.

Liambas didn't appear to strike Fanelli on the head. Instead, Liambas appeared to hit Fanelli around the shoulder and neck area. Liambas also didn't leave his feet or raise his elbow to make the hit.

It was a hard hit. Liambas, one of the league's most feared players, doesn't know how to hit any other way. He earned a roster spot with the Otters three years ago through his physical, aggressive play. Through that same style, he has remained in a league that, like the NHL, has showcased greater skill, more scoring and less need for enforcers since implementing offensively oriented rules a few years ago.

Of course, checking in this league -- and in this sport -- has grown into more than simply separating a player from the puck, a thought Steve Bienkowski, the Rangers' chief operating officer, said Monday -- the same day he saw footage of the hit for the first time.

The focus shouldn't be on "seeing how hard we can hit people," Bienkowski said. But he added, "(I) can't read what's in a player's mind. I'm not going to put words in (Liambas') mouth."

Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News had a suburb alternative take on the matter the other day:

A lot has to go wrong for something so violent to happen and anytime it does, the call comes out from across the landscape for rule changes and inward reflection. But what could be done?

The play by Liambas was illegal. He revved up from about the blueline and hunted Fanelli down. That's charging. It's a penalty and not a difficult one to detect. In my opinion, the issue is closed right there.

Both writers make their points, and make them well. We agree with Kennedy that it's a dirty hit, even if some split-second movements by Fanelli put him in a prone position. Liambas charged him and Fanelli's back was to the Otters player when the hit was made. There was a real danger that a boarding major would occur based on that approach, and it did.

That said: A season-long suspension, even for a player with some history of these things (ask John Tavares(notes) of the New York Islanders about this hit) is overkill. It's penalizing the aftermath instead of the play itself, and that's exactly what's wrong with supplemental discipline at all levels of hockey.

The suspension is for what was witnessed on the ice after the hit on Oct. 30, and what's currently written on a hospital bed chart as a 16-year-old kid is in stable but critical condition.

It's not for the actual play, which is reckless as hell but not a clear attempt to injure by Liambas. Go watch the Tavares hit if you want to see that.

Take away the injuries and the aesthetics, and is that hit worth a Bertuzzi-like mega-suspension for Liambas? Is it worth the end of Liambas's junior hockey career?

No, it isn't.

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