Comment: DOPS needs to raise its game when tackling EIHL flashpoints

It took a tweet from Matt Nickerson to cut through the noise surrounding the latest EIHL DOPS disciplinary assessment.

Sunday, 12th December 2021, 3:35 pm

The two-game suspension handed down to Cardiff Devils’ Brandon McNally was roundly condemned as feeble and inappropriate given his appalling conduct on and, very nearly off, the ice as the player and the plot parted ways in quite spectacular fashion.

“Hey @eihldops did you mean 22?” asked Nickerson who saw his career in the UK ended with a 20-game ban which followed not dis-similar circumstances.

The key difference was what happened off the ice - the former Flyers enforcer lashed out at a fan standing next to the plexi, McNally was restrained from making direct physical contact, but only just, thanks to the quick thinking of a team mate, and a security guard stuck between two people where the red mists had clear descended.

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DOPS’ two-match ban assessment was widely ridiculed across social media as fans looked at the footage, read the disciplinary body’s thorough assessment and concluded that while it talked the talk, it simply didn’t walk the walk.

The flashpoint came at the end of the second period in a midweek game in Dundee.

McNally initially paired up with a player as the buzzer sounded, and the officials intervened.

So far, so standard.

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The Cardiff forward was clearly told to leave the ice.

Instead he grabbed Stars’ Joel Porier who, DOPS noted, was “at no time a willing combatant.”

McNally punched him in the back of the head down to the ice - an action that put the player at risk of injury.

Action from Dundee Stars game against Cardiff Devils (Pic: Derek Black)

DOPS’ own report described Porier as in “a vulnerable position unable to defend himself.”

It noted too that McNally continued to throw punches as the officials stepped in, effectively putting them in danger while carrying out their duties. Still a two-game ban?

Once separated, McNally then attacks the nearest Dundee player which just happened to be Dryden Dow.

He hits him with “a two-handed gloved shove to the upper chest and head area, knocking him to the ice.”

That two-game ban is now starting to look limp.

Then came the off-ice flashpoint which was just one step from becoming a major incident.

A bottle was thrown on to the ice - an idiotic action which could cost the club - and as McNally was put off the ice pad, a fan could be seen racing down the stairs.

It’s clear the player sees it and turns to engage.

Only the presence of a steward and a security barrier – the sort a hockey player would barrel through in a heartbeat – plus the quick thinking of team-mate Josh Batch, prevented this from escalating to the news bulletin headlines.

How’s that two-game suspension sitting now?

That’s basically one weekend kicking his heels in the stands.

Anyone reading DOPS own assessment - sober, detailed and forensic - would have concluded McNally was in for a substantial suspension; somewhere around six games feels appropriate.

Anyone studying the outcome can only conclude the player got off lightly, very lightly, and that isn’t good for the credibility of the disciplinary body and how it handles such flashpoints in a seemingly arbitrary manner.

Big Matt Nickerson was absolutely responsible for his own actions, but it was no secret that many within the sport felt he was skating with a target on his back as big as his jersey number.

Ask any coach or player and they’ll tell you, all they want is consistency when it comes to discipline.

In the eyes of many, this two-game suspension failed to meet that most basic of tests.

Hockey is a fast-paced game where flashpoints do occur and, as McNally demonstrated so clearly, players can get it hopelessly wrong.

Punching an unwilling player to the ice, continuing to throw bombs at him, ignoring officials trying to intervene, levelling another with a two-handed shove to the face, and refusing to leave the ice when originally told to is a hefty rap sheet - one that really ought to add up to more than routine two-game ban.

In setting the tariff so low, DOPS leaves itself, and the sport, wide open to criticism.

It needs to do better.

Much better.

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