High hits to the head will not be tolerated by the National Hockey League and that was made abundantly clear Friday when it was announced Steve Downie
has been suspended for 20 games for the check he delivered against Dean McAmmond
earlier in the week.
The incident occurred at 2:39 of the second period during the pre-season game between the Flyers and Senators on Sept. 25. Downie, who has issued a public apology for the hit, was assessed a match penalty under Rule 21 for deliberate injury of an opponent during that game, which alone earned an immediate suspension.
McAmmond suffered a concussion, and compounding the punishment levied by NHL Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell, was that Downie was in direct violation of a League mandate to curb dangerous, high hits, as illustrated in a DVD that was circulated to all 30 teams not long ago.
“Colie Campbell, who runs hockey operations for us, had a number of meetings with coaches and with the Competition Committee, then we reported to the Board of Governors in Chicago last week that we want to be particularly sensitive to hits to the head that are out of the ordinary,where it looks like there was headhunting,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said this week in London, where the 2007-08 season will begin Saturday. “We sent out a DVD that the players have all seen. We sent out a memo explaining the criteria, an unexpected blow, primary contact to the head, late hits, injury, a player launching himself, there are a variety of factors that are looked at and considered.”
According to the criteria set forth in that DVD, Downie was in direct violation of several standards designed to protect players from head injuries. Among the rules he broke when he leveled McAmmond were he left his feet, delivered a hit directly to the head of an opponent, hit an unsuspecting player, and came in late and after McAmmond had already released the puck. In essence, it was a perfect storm of infractions.
“When any or all of these factors combine to cause an injury to an opponent, it was agreed that a player would be subject to supplemental discipline in the form of a game-suspension,” Campbell said in the official announcement of the suspension. “When all or substantially all of the factors are involved, it is clear that the suspension should be severe.
“It is clear that, while Mr. Downie is not a repeat offender, all of the other factors identified as being particularly relevant in determining the appropriateness of discipline were involved in Downie's hit on Mr. McAmmond,” he said. “The hit was deliberate, dangerous and has no place in our League.”
Downie, a rookie who is trying to make Philadelphia’s team, must sit out 20 regular season and/or playoff games if and when he’s a part of the Flyers’ 23-man roster. The suspension deals only in NHL games, so therefore if he is sent to the American Hockey League, sitting out in the minors would not count towards his NHL ban. He could also be suspended by the AHL out of respect to the NHL’s punishment.
The Downie hit was a source of much controversy this week and many NHL players came out hard against the 20-year-old, some even calling for his permanent ban from the League.
“It looked like he left his feet, and that’s not in the rule book,” Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf told reporters in Calgary. “If you hit a guy, hit him clean. Hitting a guy when he’s vulnerable is not acceptable in this game.”
Downie was also suspended from the Flyers’ preseason finale Saturday night against the Rangers as part of his sentence, which ranked among the most severe handed down in NHL history.
“The one thing I want everyone to focus on in terms of the physical play in the game, this is a physical game and we're not looking to take physicality out of the game,” Bettman said. “I believe from a statistical standpoint last year, 45,000 hits were recorded in our games. There were probably 10 hits to the head that we had to look at closely. There were less than a handful that we didn't like and needed to be addressed, which was part of the effort this summer.
“What we want to do is get rid of the less than handful of hits without getting rid of the other 45,000 hits because we're not looking to change the nature of the game, we're looking to protect heads, and that will be a priority for us during this season.”