Heading Into Danger: Riley Emmerson, Mark Thomas, And The Farce Of The EIHL DPS

If you’ve been around on EIHL hockey Twitter recently, you’ll be aware of two things. One, that the EIHL now has an independent department of Player Safety, and two, that that department (now referred to as DPS cause I’m lazy) has already made its presence felt, slapping Edinburgh’s hard-hitting forward Riley Emmerson with a ten game ban and the Caps with a fine for the Canadian’s check on Belfast’s Kevin Phillips last Sunday, which caused Phillips to leave the game with a suspected concussion.
Predictably, all hell has broken loose as a result, with the vast majority of the EIHL fanbase denouncing the penalty as ridiculously harsh. Defenders of the penalty have pointed to Edinburgh’s inability to provide video footage as the reason both for the fine and the extension of the ban for a penalty originally called as a two-minute minor to nearly 300 times that, citing the need to disduade clubs from “losing” footage.
But in discussions this week, no-one could really give an ironclad explanation as to just where the 10 game ban & fine was pulled from, except to say that it was “punitive” for Edinburgh not providing footage of the incident, or for Kevin Phillips’ concussion.
However, this weekend, we’ve seen just how badly the EIHL manages itself, and the inconsistency rife within the system, as a one-game ban handed out to Sheffield’s Mark Thomas for a similar hit on Fife’s Danny Stewart yesterday while providing a broadly similar rationale has shown just how unsure of themselves the new DPS are. They’re simply inexcusably confusing. Not only that, but with every day that passes, the ban handed out makes them look stupider still. Here’s why, in roughly the order they came through:

The Case Of The Concussion Conundrum

Kevin Phillips was apparently suffering a concussion as the result of the Emmerson hit-an injury cited by Belfast in their request for review AND the DPS in their decision-making process for the ban. Concussions, according to IIHF guidelines AND medical advice based on an extensive study by Cantu, require AT LEAST six days recovery time before returning to game play, and in recent years the increased awareness around head injuries has made teams & leagues even more aware of these.
Phillips received this concussion on Sunday. The following Friday (five days later) he was playing again against Edinburgh.
So, what we have here is an injury the EIHL think is important enough to take into account in a disciplinary process resulting in a ten-game suspension and a club fine as a result, but not bad enough for a team/player even to follow the minimum internationally-accepted recovery guidelines.
There’s some seriously impressive cognitive dissonance/disconnection going on there even if Phillips has recovered. If he hasn’t or indeed didn’t have the injury in the first place, things get really murky, because it at least raises the possibility that either the Giants exaggerated for gain, or that the EIHL and the Giants are mismanaging a potentially very serious issue. Neither possibility is palatable.
Note-to make it quite clear, I am not saying either scenario above is the one that has happened/is happening, because I simply don’t know.

The Case Of The Missing Footage

Many have said the Edinburgh ban is a deterrent to ensure no team”loses” footage when their player is cited. That’s perhaps the case and no-one would argue against it. However-unless it’s Emmerson himself who hid the footage, punishing him personally for a team error is ridiculously harsh-especially if the team are also fined. The fact that Edinburgh have (unsurprisingly) appealed means this could come down.
Oh yes…except the Caps GM, Scott Neil, has said the 10-game ban has absolutely nothing to do with punishing them for a lack of footage. So, from that logic, we can assume that the DPS thought a hit was automatically worth ten games, based on an injury that may or may not actually be serious (or is being horrendously mismanaged), having not seen it. So-fair enough, high hits equal ten game suspensions. It’s harsh but at least it’s a pla…oh, hang on…what’s this?

Consistently Inconsistent
The real test of the DPS’ reasonableness came immediately after the Emmerson ban was announced-a day later Sheffield’s Mark Thomas was cited for a similar hit to Emmerson’s (ie considered as high by the opposition) that was available on video.
This time there was video footage. This time the DPS couldn’t possibly go wrong. A boarding, high and hard, just like Emmerson’s. The video or lack of it has no bearing on the decision.
Even assuming injury doubles the tariff, Thomas is gone for five games, surely. That would be the consiste…
One game. That’s what the ban was judged worthy of.

So-we have two hits, both similar (indeed most who’ve seen both think the Thomas hit is MORE dangerous, and a league saying the ban is decided purely on the hit itself so any argument about a lack of footage doesn’t count…
except the Thomas hit, the worse one, is apparently worth NINE GAMES LESS.

So-in summary, the EIHL, an EIHL team and the Department of Player Safety have, in one weekend:

– given two similar hits bans differing in seriousness by NINE GAMES.
– used a concussion injury as basis for a 10-game ban, but apparently didn’t consider the same injury serious enough to follow internationally agreed concussion management protocols.
– admitted that the lack of video footage had no influence on the ban, thereby pretty much blowing any justification for the imposition of a max tariff on top of a (perfectly logical) club fine out of the water.

Oh yes-and let’s not forget that despite the EIHL making a big play out of the new DPS being “unconnected to any team”-they refuse to tell us who they are, effectively ensuring that EIHL discipline is now run by a shadowy group of people who have no public accountability-people may have given the previous system stick but at least fans knew who Moray Hanson was.

It is, not to put too fine a point upon it, a bloody awful start to the “Department Of Player Safety” era-no accountability, no logic, and two wildly differing decisions for the same hit.

Already, the “brave new world” of a supposedly independent department has its credibility lying in shreds-whoever these shadowy men and women in the Department of Player Safety are, they’ve already messed up badly, and left what could’ve been a great leap forward mired in a quicksand of fan and team distrust.

So, for EIHL discipline, there may be a new name over the door, but the shop is still a mess.

It needs fixing. Quickly.

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