The first weekend of the EIHL season is over, and did the league and players decide to ease into the season gently? Not a bit of it.
Nottingham battled hard with Italian Serie A side Asiago in a preseason cup, with the Italians eventually nicking a hard-fought aggregate victory in overtime on Sunday after the Panthers had beaten them on Saturday. Meanwhile, up in Scotland Fife, Edinburgh, Dundee and Braehead took each other on in the preseason Scottish Cup, which the Flyers won after smashing the Clan 7-3 in the final on Sunday, and Dundee beat a still-weak Edinburgh for third place.
Clan fans have said that their team played only six imports and a backup goalie in the final, which is fair enough, but the Flyers win still shows that the Gardiner Conference will not be the walk in the park for the Clan that some have predicted pre-season-with Fife coming to the Skydome on Sunday we’ll get an early chance to see whether their win was due to quality or Clan weakness. I suspect the former, myself.
Blaze, meanwhile, split a series with Sheffield, winning 4-3 away from home but losing 3-1 at home to a very composed Sheffield performance. It’s always dangerous to take too much from pre-season, particularly with teams missing players, playing backup goalies etc. However, Sunday night at the Skydome showed a Steelers side that looks very useful indeed-not flashy, but more than willing to get the job done. Blaze, meanwhile, can also take positives from a shortbenched loss.
After all, this is a team missing arguably its top import in Mike Danton, key dman Jerramie Domish, and also Brad Leeb, all of whom will likely play major roles in a full-strength squad. To be beaten 3-1 by a team playing four-line hockey when you’ve only got two lines is no disgrace whatsoever.
However, the main talking point which has rumbled on into the new week is this:
Granted, the footage is not the best, but it shows Leeb appearing to punch the Steelers forward in the head from behind-a fact that the officials appeared to agree with as Leeb got a match pen for “sucker punch”.
What is not shown in the video is Hewitt’s check from behind on Blaze’s Steven Chalmers, which set off the whole incident in the first place.
Now, I’m not defending the punch-even in that video it appears there’s enough grounds to assume the match pen was justified and people there on the night from both sets of fans have said it’s earned.
However, today this article appeared in the press:
The tone of that article is Steelers taking the moral high ground on the sucker punch. The whole “Hewitt’s nose is broken” argument is again a decent one at face value (no pun intended)-and if there’s an injury then fair enough-a ban is probably needed. Certainly if the roles had been reversed I’d have been expecting a ban.
Tell you what, though. If Hewitt has broken his nose he’s the first player I’ve ever seen not play in a face cage to protect it the night after. Must be a lot harder than even NHLers, that lad.
However, the tone taken by the Steelers organisation seems, to me at least, a little questionable. To paint their player as a wronged angel is shot down by these two sentences:
Hewitt had earlier stirred up trouble by checking an opponent from behind – and then shoved Leeb after he confronted him.
Fairly sure that if you’re a pro hockey player, you’ll work out that checking someone from behind and then shoving a team-mate means there may be retribution invited at some point. Hewitt is a known agitator in the league, and is more than used to this sort of donnybrook situation, although in fairness to him, saying he should be prepared for a sucker punch in the head, as a few Blaze fans have, is a bit much.
Sure, punching someone on the ice when they’re down is not on…and I say again that, based on the video and reports of the incident, it seems Leeb’s match penalty was justified. Any further suspension is up to the league to decide on.
However, there’s also this, again quoted from the Sheffield newspaper:
“If that wasn’t ugly enough, Hewitt seemed on the verge of swinging his stick at Leeb once he’d recovered and wrestled with an official”
Interestingly, Finnerty makes absolutely no mention of this in his “bush league” comments, although I’m fairly sure that if it had gone the other way with a Blaze player having to be held back from swinging a stick, we’d have heard all about that, too.
Both players were ejected, although Hewitt played on Sunday night.
The Blaze have made no comment on the incident. note: this isn’t a club comment either.
However, the Steelers do seem to be a little fond of trying to influence the course of events…as shown by this:
Finnerty expects a three game ban, but recalled that Tylor Michel was once banned for six games for an incident – and that might be ‘an indication’ for the League.
Nice work, Steelers. If you “expect” a 3 game ban, why throw in that “6 game” reference and also mention it might be “an indication” unless you’re trying to influence the league to increase it? It’s the kind of sneaky, underhand tactic that you’d think such a morally outraged figure as Finnerty would consider wrong.
Or “bush league”, if you will.
Especially as the Star report, and Finnerty himself, have seemingly got confused.
Michel was actually banned for five further games after the match pen for his sucker punch against Belfast, not six: here’s the EIHL release saying so.
So what we have is the Sheffield coach throwing a casual reference to a six game ban in, and the Sheffield newspaper seemingly getting their research wrong in an attempt to support it.
The mind games have begun, it seems.