November 08, 2011
To the surprise of no one, the Ontario Hockey League has given Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Tom Kühnhackl its longest suspension in two seasons, sitting him down for 20 games for his head shot on star defenceman Ryan Murphy last Friday.
It was a pretty easy call for the OHL — reckless player coming in too fast, vulnerable opponent and an injury resulting. No doubt you have already seen it, since the YouTube clip has had 30,000-plus views since Saturday:
What remains to be seen is whether this might lead to formalizing protocol for dealing with a player who's suffered head trauma. There have been a lot of positive steps in this regard recently; for instance, when Owen Sound Attack captain Garrett Wilson was injured during the MasterCard Memorial Cup last season, his teammates on the bench alerted the training staff. However, there are fair questions about the fact Murphy re-entered last Friday's game briefly.
From Damien Cox:
[Murphy's] agent, Ian Pulver, said Murphy is improving slowly.
"I think this was a hit that was totally unnecessary and could have been avoided," said Pulver.
The incident was similar, but not identical, to a hit in almost the same place on the Kitchener rink two years ago when Erie's Michael Liambas hammered Ben Fanelli of the Rangers, leaving Faneilli with a fractured skull. Liambas was booted out of the league, while Fanelli has returned to play this season.
It's believed Murphy's injury is not as severe. But there is concern that he was permitted to play one more shift after the Kuhnhackl hit before being taken out of the game. (The Spin)
No doubt all medical staff in the league have their heads and hearts in the right place and put the player's health and safety first, second and third. It is hard to tell a teenage player who's champing at the bit to return to the game that he cannot, especially amid the tumult of a game. Erring on the side of caution is always for the best for treating players, though.
It is good to hear Murphy's condition has improved (and far be it to wonder about the "not as severe" part; Fanelli had to be airlifted to hospital and was in a coma, for goodness' sake).
As for the length of the suspension, it's fair. It's the longest ban in the OHL since Zack Kassian also got 20 games for a head shot on Barrie's Matt Kennedy in January 2010 and that play was arguably worse, although Kassian was also a repeat offender and Kühnhackl was not. This was worse than the last major suspension involving an IceDog, when then-Niagara defender Tim Billingsley hit Ottawa 67's left wing Shane Prince with his head down last winter. Billingsley got 10 games then, although six of those were more critical playoff matches.
Kühnhackl, whose season has been stalled by a knee injury that he reportedly re-aggravated last Friday, is eligible to return to the Niagara IceDogs on Jan. 6. Since he played in Germany before being drafted, he was eligible for the American Hockey League this season, but that league has typically honoured other leagues' suspension.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (video: Rogers Television).