There are a lot of good stories that should be talked about tonight. William Nylander stole everybody’s hearts yet again with a pair of goals. Richard Panik went full early 90’s Adam Oates and had four assists. TJ Brennan is near a point per game again.. Frank Corrado is starting to get back into game shape, and Garret Sparks saw his save percentage go from beer league to near the league’s best in a matter of hours.
We shouldn’t be talking about Tyler Bertuzzi tonight, but yet, here were are. These are the type of moments that make people take the American Hockey League less seriously.
Let’s run through what’s wrong with everything going on here, in terms of the direct incident.
Everybody on the Griffins and Marlies starts to pair off in what looks like your typical pushing and shoving scrum. Bertuzzi is no stranger to playing with an edge, having always been a 1.5-2 penalty minute a game type of player with the Guelph Storm. He doesn’t get in quick enough to find a player of his own grit level, so he grabs one about a year younger than him, Kasperi Kapanen.
Grab, in this case, isn’t a metaphor. Kapanen has no interest in fighting and is basically in the scrum for solidarity. Bertuzzi literally pulls Kapanen into open ice. Kapanen takes two glove punches to the facial area before he pulls his second arm up in defence, to keep Bertuzzi from doing more. It doesn’t matter. Third punch. Fourth punch. Fifth.
Bertuzzi is going nowhere with it and knows it. Normally, this is when a player either gives up or tries to find a new opponent. Bertuzzi, however, pulls out his leg, slew foots Kapanen, and as the 19-year-old Finn is losing balance, throws him down. He then shakes his hair back and stands around, his “message” apparently sent.
Besides, Sam Carrick and Nikita Soshnikov have them covered. Both of them, Carrick in the background and Soshnikov behind the view of the camera, are very obviously furious and trying to get over to address Bertuzzi. Carrick is held back by a linesman, who is backed up by Robbie Russo. On the other side, the other linesman is holding back Soshnikov, while Anthony Mantha stands guard of that situation. Kapanen had teammates trying to help him; they just, well, couldn’t.
This leaves the lone remaining official to break up Bertuzzi and Kapanen. I know you’re reading this and saying “that’s only three officials, though”, and you’re correct in that statement. Despite the fact that the AHL is making more money than ever, and despite NHL teams using it for development more than ever, it’s rare to see an AHL game use four officials, despite that being the standard in the NHL, major junior, college hockey, most of Europe, any significant IIHF tournament, and even a lot of Junior A leagues.
The lone official spends his time doing a lot of pointing and yelling. I’m going to assume that he’s staying away from breaking up the situation because he feels it hasn’t escalated yet and because that leaves all three officials with tied hands while four Griffins skate around with two Marlies. This is a case where that fourth official would be useful.
Alternatively, not having players who want to fight being prevented from taking on the guy bullying their teammate could have worked too. But in the heat of the moment, I understand that’s a risky allowance.
Sheldon Keefe seemed none too pleased about the incident. “I’m sure it will be looked at” said Toronto’s head coach in regards the potential for a suspension. “I’m not sure how Kappy’s doing here; he was a little shook up on the play. I’m sure he’ll be alright, but there was no doubt an intent to injure here, and you never like to see that”.
Bertuzzi received a match penalty for the incident, but you would hope that this isn’t the end of the line. The short term hope would be a suspension if only to give the player a hint that actions like that aren’t accepted at the professional level. Long term, however, I’d hope that a situation like this pushes the league to consider adding a second referee; an extra set of hands likely defuses the situation before it escalates to the level that it did.
Toronto ultimately ended up with the last laugh, in any event. Twenty-three seconds after play resumed, the Marlies took advantage of the ensuing powerplay, and Brendan Leipsic ended his goalless drought while giving Rinat Valiev his first professional point.
Like I said, there were a lot of positive storylines in this game. Unfortunately, they lost the spotlight to silliness.