Went to a hockey bench and a fight broke out

From the lack of officiating discipline that led to the situation to the ridiculously one-sided punishment doled out by the league office, you’re about to see what we can only hope is atypical for the Southern Professional Hockey League. Or in hockey itself. Or in the South itself. I grew up there, you know.

Let’s watch the video, then break it down:

(Or let’s not. In March 2015, I received a warning from Google AdSense about this page. I couldn’t figure out how to explain that this blog is a sports blog that may sometimes talk about issues such as fighting — or, in the case of MMA, may talk about fighting as a sport — and I figured it was simply easier to take down the video.)

1. A fight breaks out between Huntsville’s Corey Fulton (#44) and Mississippi’s Jeff Grant (#23).

2. The fighters fall into the Mississippi bench area.

3. At the 10-second mark, we see our first violation of hockey’s “code”: Fights are one-on-one. That’s it. But Mississippi’s Anthony Collins (#11) and Branden Kosolofsky (#20) gang up on Fulton. Someone appears to use his stick.

4. Huntsville’s Aaron McGill (#16) gets into the bench area to try to even things up or get his guy out of there. A ref tackles him. (0:15 into video)

5. Huntsville’s Chapen LeBlond (#18) flies past the fallen ref and teammate to get into the bench.

6. Meanwhile (still less than 20 seconds into video), separate players/fighters pair off.

  • Huntsville’s Matt Smyth (#4) punches his way clear of Mississippi’s Corey Tamblyn (#17), then hops into the ruck at the bench.
  • Mississippi’s Kyle VanderMale (#14) grapples with Huntsville’s Ian Boots (#10) to take him out of the area.
  • Mississippi’s Jay Silvia (#25) grabs Huntsville’s Justin Fox (#19) and gently steers him away. They’re not really involved.

7. By the 22-second mark, several Huntsville players have made it over to the Mississippi bench — Bryant Doerrsam (#3), Stefan Stuart (#7), Sam Cannata (#8), Brett Liscomb (#82), Kyle Laughlin (#14), even backup goaltender Jonathan LaRose (#1). As in a bench-clearing brawl in baseball, most of these players are just there as a show of force, not really involved at this point.

8. But then Smyth (see step 6) throws a few punches into the bench. And Cannata (see step 7) is in the bench, as is Bill Baker (#67). By the 34-second mark, the officials have made no progress whatsoever with the combatants at the bench. Some Huntsville players, like Liscomb, look like they’re trying to break things up. Baker, on the other hand, has worked his way toward the far side of the bench somehow, like Scarlett Johansson getting through the hallway and taking guys out in Iron Man 2.

9. Doerrsam (see step 7) breaks away with Mississippi’s Reid Edmondson (#27) for a more traditional hockey fight, landing a few good shots early. Boots and VanderMale, one of the groups that broke away in step 6, also have a one-on-one fight going, but they’re not doing much.

10. Mississippi’s goalie, Kiefer Smiley, figures he should square off with another goaltender, so he gets LaRose.

11. Now a “code” violation for Huntsville’s Doerrsam, who keeps punching when Edmondson goes down. “Ground-and-pound” is OK in MMA. Not so good when someone’s head is near solid ice.

12. Huntsville’s LeBlond, on the Mississippi bench, manages to square off one-on-one with a Mississippi player — looks like Payden Benning (#18). They tumble off the bench onto the ice, and LeBlond rightly lets him go. Then LeBlond goes back to the bench and grabs another player.

13. Meanwhile, still around the 1:12 mark, Mississippi goalie Smiley is trying to get into the left side of the bench, through the door that started it all. Huntsville goalie Dan McWhinney holds him back.  Smiley flings a punch or two, but another Huntsville player helps to hold him back.

14. By 1:20, most of the action — including a fight on the bench involving Huntsville’s Cannata — has died down except for a one-on-one battle in which Huntsville’s Boots has VanderMale on the ground. He half-slams him as if to assert position. The official nearby does nothing. Boots stands and lets VanderMale go.

15. So for about 20-30 seconds, everything is calm. Huntsville players clear the area. One Mississippi player flings a couple of sticks in anger, but they hit no one.

16. But Fulton, the original Huntsville combatant, comes back to the bench — either to retrieve a glove or say something (or both). So a Mississippi player punches him from the bench. Cannata comes in, presumably to pull Fulton away, and another Mississippi player hits him. A few other players push and shove.

17. Finally, the biggest punk move by far — Kosolofsky gives Cannata a couple of punches as he leaves, then picks up a stick and starts poking people. That’s a massive no-no in hockey fights.

The penalties:

Huntsville:

  • LeBlond (#18): fighting, game misconduct for continuing altercation. He did fight more than one guy, so that seems fair.
  • Baker (#67): fighting, game misconduct for continuing altercation. Same deal.
  • McGill (#16): same penalties. Seems harsh since the ref tackled him before he could get in there.
  • Cannata (#8): same penalties. He was the most active on the Mississippi bench, so that seems OK.
  • Fulton (#44): leaving players’ bench, game misconduct. Wait, wasn’t he the original guy?

Mississippi:

  • Edmondson (#27): fighting, game/continuing altercation. Seems harsh unless something happened off-screen.
  • Collins (#11): fighting, game/continuing altercation. Absolutely.
  • Kosolofsky (#20): fighting, game/continuing altercation, spearing, match penalty for throwing equipment. Yeah, they got him.

So the refs got most of it right, though they missed Huntsville’s Doerrsam (the ground-and-pound guy fighting Edmondson) and Mississippi’s Smiley (the pugilistic goaltender).

If you’re the league office, you should probably hand out additional punishment for Huntsville’s Fulton (skating back to the scene, which got everything restarted), Huntsville’s Doerrsam (the fight the refs missed), Mississippi’s Collins (third man into a fight on the bench) and especially Mississippi’s Kosolofsky. And also the Mississippi coaching staff. Right?

Nope.

The SPHL did the following:

Mississippi: Kosolofsky 6 games, Collins 3. That sounds good, though there’s nothing for the staff. A better video angle may also have shown some other shenanigans on the bench, but perhaps nothing else was available.

Huntsville: LeBlond 5, Smyth 5, Fulton 4, Baker 3, head coach Glenn Detulleo 2. Wait, what?

Oh, and they fined Doerrsam (fair enough), Boots (what?) and trainer Billy Welker (whatever). And the Huntsville organization.

So the moral of the story: If one of your players is getting beaten up by three or more guys on the opposing bench, just sit back and let it happen. Even if the refs aren’t really breaking it up.

The most interesting commentary so far is on the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer‘s “Snakes Blog.” Not sure who writes it, though in the post complaining about the league’s action, he identifies himself as “a shareholder in this league since its inception.” He thinks Kosolofsky’s suspension should’ve been much longer, and he wonders how Mississippi got off so easily after the “Surge-vs.-Fulton” phase of the fight.

Perhaps some of it is reputation. Fulton has compiled more than 1,000 penalty minutes dating back to his junior days, including a whopping 323 in 49 games before going pro. And in any case, some of the Huntsville players look like they were punished for winning their fights, not starting them.

I miss the NHL.

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