It doesn't matter that Sean Avery didn't get suspended for his two-handers on Mike Komisarek.
It doesn't matter if you think Shane Doan's punishment was harsh.
And it doesn't matter that 30 years ago, Mike Milbury clobbered someone with a shoe. It's no longer a relevant comparison.
What matters is this: In 2010, you can never, ever allow a player to touch a fan. And that's why Rick Rypien is going to get a lengthy suspension. And he deserves it.
Emotion clouded judgment
There are certain things we can all understand. The Canucks were losing, badly. The players were frustrated. A game against Chicago - the team Vancouver is measured against - looms large. It gets emotional.
But Rypien was out of control. Moments earlier, he punched Brad Staubitz while the Wild forward was being restrained by a linesman. That's a no-no, a violation of the fighting code. Then came Rypien's walk off the ice.
There was no physical contact between the Canuck and the fan. God knows what was said, but when it comes to taunts, I always remember a conversation with Jim Fregosi.
Anyone who ever dealt with Fregosi knows he is as crusty as they come. He never backed down from a confrontation, verbal or physical. During his tenure as Blue Jays manager, he got into a bar fight at a Philadelphia hotel. Stepping back was a sign of weakness.
In May 2000, during a baseball game at Wrigley Field, Cubs fans poured beer on the players in the Los Angeles bullpen, then tried to steal catcher Chad Kreuter's cap. Several Dodgers responded by charging into the crowd, creating a complete melee. Eventually, 16 players and three coaches would be suspended.
Fregosi had no sympathy for them. I don't have the exact quote, but he basically said there is no excuse to go into the crowd or get involved with the fans. I remember pointing out the Dodgers were provoked. Fregosi didn't care. He was adamant. It was a no-win for the player and the sport.
Players must keep cool
Now, the Rypien situation doesn't compare to that. Nor is it as bad as the all-time player/fan meltdown, the world-famous (infamous?) Pacers/Pistons brawl of 2004. But the principle still applies. Even if the fan went over the line, you've got to let someone else deal with it.
It's pretty weird, though. Rypien doesn't even look at the guy beforehand. He's arguing with referee Chris Rooney, then turns to walk off the ice and grabs the fan. (I'm surprised at people who say the two men shouldn't have been relocated. I thought that was a brilliant move by the Wild's game staff. Putting them somewhere else diffused any possibility of a repeat.)
When the final judgment comes down on Rypien, people will mock the NHL for caring more about this than concussions or headshots. It's an easy punchline. Player-on-player violence is one thing, but player-on-fan is something else entirely. The NHL has no choice. The suspension must be harsh.
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