What a difference a week makes for Justin Pender.
One day he’s the power play catalyst and one of Canada’s top defencemen at a world ball hockey championship. His play was one of the reasons Canada ran up a 4-0 mark at the tournament.
Crosstalk on the ball hockey brawl
Don Power joined Radio Noon host Ramona Dearing on Thursday for a Crosstalk about the ball hockey brawl. You can listen to the program here.
The Canadians were gracious hosts away from the rink, but ultra-competitive on the ball hockey floor.
Pender and his teammates are the toast of the town.
The next thing you know, Pender’s a villain, an outcast and the devil, all rolled into one. On Saturday, June 8, Pender’s life changed when he committed a reckless act that will haunt him forever.
With just a tick or two remaining on the clock, with his Canadian team down 4-1 to the Czech Republic in the semi-final of the world ball hockey championship, Pender snapped to the taunting of his opponent.
In a scene out of the movie Slap Shot, the lanky defenceman beat the Czech player down the floor with a series of punches, ending up in a heap of bodies that included the Czech goalie and a ref.
The YouTube video is irrefutable proof that he snapped. Lost it completely.
And within 30 seconds or so (watch the video below), it was over, but his sporting life — and his name — are forever tarnished.
Pender’s bashing of a defenceless Czech player has been viewed almost 400,000 times on YouTube alone, never mind the other news agencies which embedded it in their web coverage. Not the 15 minutes of fame you’re looking for.
It was ugly.
But the interesting part of this whole fiasco is that for 30 seconds or more, no other Canadian teammate was in the frame of the video I saw, and when they did emerge, they were walking like they were strolling Quidi Vidi Lake.
Pender acted alone, obviously, but what became of his teammates who were on the floor at the time? Did they run and hide? Nobody came to get their teammate out of this mess until the captain pulled him off his tormentors and sent him to the dressing room.
Not only did his teammates desert him, Canada’s coaching staff also let him down. What was Pender doing on the floor in those last few seconds? The game is gone; emotions are running high because of the loss. Coaches are supposed to diffuse these types of situations by putting the proper players on the floor. Players who won’t snap.
(And as an aside, why even line up for a faceoff with 1.3 seconds left? The refs should have ended the game then, because nothing productive can come out of that situation.)
Having said all that, let’s get this straight: there is no way to condone or accept Pender’s actions. It can’t be done. What he did is reprehensible, no doubt.
There’s no place else to lay blame except at Pender’s feet. I was at that game, although I had ducked out before this incident, determined to beat the terrible traffic jams coming from Jack Byrne Arena. The Czechs had been taunting Canada all night, flopping like European soccer players at the closest sign of contact.
It was clearly their game plan to get under the Canadians’ skin. And guess what: it worked. The Czechs took advantage of stupid Canadian penalties — retaliatory penalties that cost Canada goals — to eliminate the hosts.
Pender’s actions will stick to him like a bad tattoo, and he’ll have to wear it for a lifetime.
But when you are in sporting contests, it’s not just a matter of physical will that wins games. You develop a strength of character that emerges — especially when you are losing. Canada didn’t have that character, at least not in this game.
Yes, Pender has apologized. And as befitting a 24-year-old,he took to Twitter for his apology.
"After the hockey game was over, I let the behavior of a member on the opposing team anger me. My response to the taunting was misguided and someone was injured because of it. Had I stayed calm and simply walked away, this accident would not have occurred," Pender wrote in a series of nine tweets.
"As a member of a team hosting an international event, I should have set a higher standard of sportsmanship for myself, but I did not and it reflected poorly upon my team who worked so hard for this competition.
"Going forward, I will make every effort to prevent this from happening again by remembering how my actions have impacted myself and those around me. I will be setting a higher standard for myself and my actions in order to develop better sportsmanship."
Whether Pender actually wrote those words, or they were provided with some prompting — they are a world removed from his normal Twitter phraseology, spelling and punctuation — he’s apologized.
The international ball hockey federation has his fate in their hands, and will decide if he ever plays the game at this or any level again.
But one thing is certain. Pender’s actions will stick to him like a bad tattoo, and he’ll have to wear it for a lifetime.
That’s something nobody can change, not even Pender.
Follow Don on Twitter:@PowerPlay27