DOPS: suspensions not fines will help to ensure player safety - comment

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Ice hockey and disciplinary bodies have long been awkward bedfellows - and the sport continues to deliver decisions which leave fans and players bewildered.

A big talking point in Fife Flyers’ fine 6-1 win over Nottingham Panthers on Sunday was Mathieu Gagnon’s stickwork on forward Janne Kilvilathi.

Most fans anticipated a ban - anywhere between one and three games.

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What they didn’t expect was a fine when the EIHL’s Department of Player Safety (DOPS) issued its decision.

Mathieu Gagnon's cross-check on Janne Kivilahti sparked a huge debate among fans (Pic: Derek Young)Mathieu Gagnon's cross-check on Janne Kivilahti sparked a huge debate among fans (Pic: Derek Young)
Mathieu Gagnon's cross-check on Janne Kivilahti sparked a huge debate among fans (Pic: Derek Young)

The picture in this story captures the aggression of the moment.

The game was well into its third period as Kivilahti and Gagnon bumped briefly as they cut across the ice.

Off the puck, Gagnon nailed him with a cross-check. The ref’s arm went up, the Panthers’ defenceman spun round and then, with Kivilahti on one knee, unleashed a hefty cross-check close to his neck, followed by a second lunge lower down his back. The whole flashpoint lasted barely eight seconds.

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It was a nasty bit of stickwork from Gagnon. He was clearly angry and lashed out, but his recklessness could have caused injury to a player not in a position to defend himself.

Kivilahti wasn’t hurt - but neither was he protected by DOPS which has player safety as its very reason for existing.

DOPS has issued some helpful, detailed explanations for its decisions in recent seasons, but the statement on Gagnon simply said he was being fined, which only raised more questions: How much? £50? £300? More? Does he have to pay before he plays again - and is it the player who coughs up?It isn’t the first fine dished out this season, but fans are none the wiser what the going rate is for a cross check or a slash. There is no reason why DOPS can’t put these figures into the public domain.

And another question - are the fines in proportion to the player’s salary, or are they a random fees set by unknown figures in the sport? What happens if a player is fined more than he gets paid? Answers to DOPS …

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There is a place for fines, but they should be for acts of unsportsmanlike conduct. Checks and hits which could cause injury have to be tackled by removing the player through suspension, but when DOPS has set the bar as low as one game for illegal checks to the head, it simply boxes itself in.

No-one wants the game to be sanitised, but players rightly expect the system to have their backs if someone takes a stick to it. The fine on Gagnon does nothing to give them that confidence.