Junior hockey player Patrice Cormier has been banned from Quebec Major Junior Hockey League play for the rest of the season, including the playoffs, the league said during a news conference Monday.
The world juniors Team Canada captain and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies centre landed an elbow on Quebec Remparts defenceman Mikael Tam during a QMJHL game on Jan. 17, leaving Tam convulsing on the ice before he was rushed off on a stretcher.
"It was dangerous and unacceptable," said Raymond Bolduc, league disciplinarian.
Tam was taken to hospital, where he stayed until the following evening. He suffered brain trauma and damage to several teeth.
Cormier has five days to appeal the suspension. Neither he nor the Huskies had any immediate comment on the ruling.
Video of the hit showed Cormier jumping off the bench and making a beeline for Tam, who was carrying the puck across centre ice. Cormier's elbow was fully raised as it caught Tam flush in the face.
"When I was in emergency and I was asking myself where I was, and I didn't know why I was in this condition, I was scared, very scared," Tam, 18, said at a news conference on Friday. "When I regained consciousness, I had no recollection of what had happened."
Cormier, known as a physical player, said he never wanted to hurt Tam, telling French sports station RDS on Thursday that the hit was "a reflex."
"I never had the intention of hurting anyone," he said. "But I'm not going to sit here and say I didn't do anything.
"You can clearly see that it was an elbow. But it was a reflex. I was only trying to check him. I never had it in my mind to hit Mikael in the head."
The Cap-Pelé, N.B., native hit Sweden's Anton Rodin with a similar elbow to the mouth during an exhibition game ahead of the world juniors in December.
"Players are responsible for their actions, and they must be held accountable," said Gilles Corteau, QMJHL commissioner.
Courteau added the league's board of governors would look into stiffer punishment for hits to the head and a program would be launched to educate players on dangerous hits and the effects of concussions and other head injuries.
The league brought in tougher suspensions before the 2008-09 season that were designed to reduce on-ice violence. At the time, though, they were mainly aimed at fighting.
But he said the Cormier hit was "an isolated incident."
"We haven't seen any increase in stick penalties — slashing or cross-checking," Courteau said. "This wasn't something we see on a regular basis."
Patrick Roy, head coach of the Remparts, said the suspension was a step in the right direction.
"I'm sure nobody is happy to have to give probably the largest suspension ever in our league to Patrice Cormier," he told the news media. "But at the same time I think it is a great opportunity for the league to send a message to our players."
Los Angeles Kings coach Terry Murray applauded the ruling.
"I think there has to be a message sent," he said after his team's practice in Toronto ahead on Tuesday's matchup against the Maple Leafs. "It's important that the vicious hits get cleaned up in the game of hockey.
"To me it's fair. I don't like to see young guys get penalized too severely but in the situations I'm seeing in the game today, I believe it's really important for the people in charge to send the right message to the game of hockey."
Devils draft pick
Cormier, 19, was a second-round draft pick by New Jersey in 2008 and signed a three-year entry-level contract last summer.
There was a chance that Cormier, who is allowed to compete in lower-tier professional leagues, might play for the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Lowell, Mass., after the Huskies' post-season ends, but New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello nixed that option later Monday.
"The Devils' organization views this situation seriously and does not condone Patrice Cormier's actions," he said in a release. "We will honour the league's suspension, have not considered and will not explore other avenues for his return this season.
"This unfortunate incident does not reflect the character of the Patrice Cormier we know. We trust that Patrice will have learned a valuable lesson that will serve him well when he returns to hockey as a valued player in our organization."
AHL commissioner Dave Andrews said he'd have to review the case and noted the league has honoured suspensions from other leagues in the past.
Several serious incidents in Canadian junior hockey have put the spotlight on reckless play causing injury.
Michael Liambas of the Erie Otters was suspended by the OHL for the remainder of the season, essentially the rest of his junior career, when he slammed Kitchener defenceman Ben Fanelli with a crushing hit from behind on Nov. 3.
Fanelli ended up with a fractured skull and orbital bone and spent four days in hospital. He is still recuperating and there is no timeline as to when he'll return to the lineup.
Days before Cormier's hit on Tam, Windsor forward Zack Kassian lunged at the head of Barrie's Matt Kennedy, leaving his feet and landing a blow while Kennedy was looking skyward for the puck.
Kennedy, 20, suffered his fifth concussion, and is said to be considering retirement. Kassian was suspended for 20 games on Friday.