Fife Flyers defenceman Matt Nickerson has vowed to stay off the radar of the Elite League’s Department of Player Safety after missing seven games through suspension in the past month.
The Flyers enforcer celebrated his 30th birthday by returning to the line-up for the 9-3 win over Edinburgh Capitals on Sunday after serving a three-game ban for landing a punch on Braehead Clan’s Jeff Smith from behind the team bench during the match on January 2.
Nickerson also missed four games at the end of the year after DOPS reviewed his match penalty for fighting during the home defeat to Sheffield Steelers on December 7, and added an extra three games.
The big American feels that his punishments have been unjustified, and that the DOPS are treating him differently to the league’s other enforcers, but he admits that he cannot afford to miss any more games as the play-off race reaches a crucial phase.
“Especially now, at the end of the year, I can’t really afford any more three or four game bans,” Nickerson told the Press.
“They’re just looking to do it to me - especially for little petty things that shouldn’t be a ban. It’s ridiculous.
“But I have to adapt, as Dutes says. Instead of reacting to a punch on the bench, next time I have to swallow it.”
Nickerson felt that his most recent ban was particularly harsh after insisting he was provoked by Braehead defenceman Smith.
“I just reacted,” he said. “Smith has run away from me all year after the initial incident between us, and he popped me in the face.
“When you hit someone in the face, you’re going to be hit back. It’s just animal instinct.
“I threw a punch and caught him pretty clean, but if he didn’t go down it wouldn’t have been such a big deal.
“DOPS is a joke - they refused to hear an appeal, which is illegal, and three games for that is ridiculous, especially when other guys are bare-fist punching guys four times in the face, giving them a concussion and missing a month.
“It was a glove punch but just seems to be the MO of DOPS that whenever I do something it’s much harsher than anybody in Braehead or anywhere else.
“I didn’t even think I should’ve been ejected from the game - and to get three games on top of that - I was mad. I’m still mad.
“But it’s water under the bridge now - I’ll move on.”
Nickerson may be skating on thin ice with regards suspensions, but he still intends to carry out his role as an enforcer when the situation calls for it.
“There’s been times where I’ve wanted to just grab guys and force them to fight, but I know that if I do that, it’s going to be astronomical, compared to guys like Fitzgerald doing it, knocking a guy out, and giving him concussion,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate, but I can still police the ice without forcing guys to fight.
“I don’t have to go out there and fight - I don’t necessarily enjoy fighting all the time.
“Sometimes I’m really eager, and other times, if other tough guys want to play the game and everything’s clean, then there’s no need.
“It just gives our guys some confidence to know that if something needs taken care of, they know I’m going to do it.
“Most games are pretty clean, and I haven’t had too many takers this year, but that’s fine - I’m doing my job.”
Nickerson is now focusing on helping Flyers re-discover the form that took them to the play-off semi-finals last season.
He said: “That work ethic we had last year where it was every game, everybody going in same direction - it would be a great time to get that back, not taking a night off, here or there.”