ICE HOCKEY BLOG: Clarity & consistency in discipline - at last

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When it comes to disciplinary decisions, hockey coaches ask for just two things - clarity and consistency. They now seem to have both.

There is no doubt the EIHL’s new Department of Player Safety (DOPS) didn’t make the best first impression, but it has since brought clear thinking to its decisions, and explained them in an open manner that must still make some league officials feel very uncomfortable.

Gone are behind close doors decisions, and in its place has come a detached analysis of the evidence and a clear explanation complete with video of the incident.

Tuesday’s announcement of the bans and fines following the pre-game macho shoving match between Dundee Stars and Braehead Clan was pretty much text book discipline.

The incident was far removed from the ‘‘hockey brawl’’ headlines in some papers - was a punch even thrown? - but it was completely out of order.

The footage was also pretty clear.

Clan’s Zach Fitzgerald noises up Stars’ defenceman Brad Plumton as they both hover round the red line during warm-up.

Words are exchanged, and it doesn’t take a body language expert to figure out this one might kick off.

Stars captain Chris Blight arrives on the scene, and that draws Clan’s Chris Frank into the fray.

If anyone can take a tricky situation and make it worse, then the chief antagoniser can - he sees the verbals and raises it to a physical encounter with an in-your-face shove which sparks the usual coming together of all skaters.

Somewhere in the midst of it all is a young mascot. He’s up against the boards, next to where Plumton and Fitzgerald are still doing their macho stand-off.

A glove is seen moving him away and he quickly skates through the gathering to the other side of the rink. He is unharmed - at worst maybe a bit scared, but, if he’s a hockey kid then he will also have a great tale to tell.

The noise brings the officials out of their locker room and they have to supervise the rest of warm up.

The verdict of DOPS was pretty much on the money - fines of £1000 to each team, and £500 removed from the wallet of Chris Frank who also got a one match ban for escalating the whole mess to something that could easily have careered out of control.

It’s his second DOPS ban - he’s just back from sitting out four games - and he’s clearly on their radar. For a man to whom chirping and niggling seem second nature - he IS good player when he sticks to concentrating on the game - it’s going to be a very long season trying to stay on the right side of the new disciplinary body.

Frank will either figure it out, or he’ll be spending quite a few match nights sitting in the stands. It’s entirely up to him, but if the end result is a curb on his panto villain routine, then few will complain.

There is no doubt DOPS singled him out as one of the main agitators of the pre-game snarling.

The commentary clearly states that Frank’s actions ‘‘causes the situation to escalate and initiates a gathering of both teams in the centre where verbal and physical contact is made.’’

There is also a warning which is far removed from the usual platitudes mouthed by hockey officials over the decades - ‘‘there are no excuses for incidents like this to take place in warm-up’’ ... ‘‘totally unacceptable and dangerous’’ ... ‘‘will not be tolerated.’’

The memo which also went out to all clubs warning them of the sanctions should it happen again must also make for fascinating reading.

Sunday’s snarling and snapping could have been much worse - remember the ‘96 pre-game brawl between Durham Wasps and Humberside Seahawks which left Bruce Bell battered with serious facial injuries and players taken away in handcuffs? Aye, in comparison, Fitzgerald and Plumton were kids swapping insults, BUT with the adrenalin flowing and teams pumped for the game it was maybe one dig, one shove, one punch away from kicking-off, and when hockey teams lose it, well things can go downhill faster than an Olympic skier going for gold.

DOPS was right to view Sunday’s footage with a sense of perspective, and not clamber to the moral high ground.

Its actions were measured and in proportion to the incident, it clearly identified the player whose conduct was must unacceptable, and it has warned all clubs of what will happen if there is any repeat.

This week also saw it clearly nail two other players guilty of dangerous and illegal checks.

Again, the suspensions were in proportion to the offence - none of this ten-game nonsense which was the route hockey was headed down this time last year.

If DOPs continued with this level headed approach then the winners will be the sport, and the fans.

The players guilty of cheap shotting opponents and making dangerous plays will be punished time after time, and a sport that is competitive and physical, rather than violent, will flourish.

And the new body will have done what it says on the tin. It will have ensured the safety of players.