The Ontario Hockey League has reacted strongly to a hit that put a Kitchener Rangers defenceman in critical condition, suspending Michael Liambas of the Erie Otters for the remainder of the season.
Ben Fanelli, who is now listed in serious but stable condition, suffered skull and facial fractures after he was hit into the boards during the Oct. 30 game.
The suspension of Liambas, 20, will include the playoffs.
"Players must understand they shall be held accountable for their actions," OHL commissioner David Branch said in a statement. "We must all work towards improving the level of respect players have towards opposing players and the game in general."
Fanelli was handling the puck behind his own net in a game at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. The defender turned his head towards the boards as Liambis approached in stride.
While Liambis didn't lift his skates off the ground, the impact of the hit broke Fanelli's helmet. The teen's head appeared to strike the metal partition framing the glass at the Zamboni entrance.
Fanelli twitched on the ice before being attended to by team and arena staff. The 16-year-old Oakville, Ont., native suffered a facial cut that led to considerable bleeding.
Fanelli is recuperating at Hamilton General Hospital after being airlifted from Kitchener.
Liambis received a match penalty for boarding on the play. Otters coach Robbie Ftorek, a former NHL player and coach, told the Erie Times-News that the Woodbridge, Ont., native has been having a tough time emotionally in the wake of the incident.
Liambas is a five-foot-nine, 200-pounder. Fanelli is four inches taller, and is about 25 pounds lighter.
Fanelli had an assist through his first seven games with Kitchener.
"He's a player that we felt had the opportunity not only to be a great player for Kitchener, but I believe had an opportunity, and I still hope he has an opportunity, to be a professional hockey player," said Rangers coach Steve Spott.
The Otters released a statement on their website late Wednesday afternoon regarding the suspension.
"While the team regrets that this stern response was necessary … we respect the decision," it read. "We would be remiss if we did not note in parting that Mike was a popular teammate and an able contributor to the team in his time with Erie.
"Mike is also an A-plus student with an average in the high 90s, and was a selfless contributor to and very involved with local charities in the Erie area in his time with the Otters. He is an exemplary young man and we wish him well in his future endeavours."
Liambas was entering his fourth season with Erie. ln 124 games with the Otters, he had compiled five goals, eight assists, and 357 penalty minutes.