NHL condemns banana toss in London, Ont.
Flyers' Wayne Simmonds calls incident 'unfortunate'
The NHL called it "stupid and ignorant." Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds said he was "above this sort of stuff."
A banana came out of the stands in London, Ont., on Thursday night as Simmonds was skating towards Detroit goalie Jordan Pearce in a pre-season shootout.
Simmonds is black.
Reaction pours in
"I was at the game in London last night, sitting at the far end of the arena when this incident took place. We had no idea what had landed on the ice. I am appalled to learn this morning that it was a banana. Disgusted!" — Carol Phillips, Wingham, Ont., in an email to CBCNews.ca.
"Wayne Simmonds is a good friend of mine. To hear what happened tonight to him in my hometown is awful. No need for this in sports, or life." — San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture on Twitter.
"When I first heard about it I thought, the way I've always thought, that hockey has the power to unite and we will not give the banana peel the power to divide." — Karl Subban, father of Canadiens defenceman PK Subban.
"Wayne Simmonds dealt with an act of extreme ignorance and stupidity tonight. Sad to hear. There's no room for this. None." — Andrew Gordon, Anaheim Ducks winger, on Twitter.
"We're in 2011, right? And to hear something like this still happening? I know back in the day it was worse than it is today, but to hear about a fan in London that did something like that where it's already such an honour to get an NHL exhibition game there, I was totally floored and I felt obviously really bad for Wayne Simmonds." — retired NHLer Georges Laraque in an interview with CBC.
"#NHL … Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds who is black had a banana thrown at him from the stands as he skated for in for a shot. #FOUL" — former NBA player Jalen Rose.
"Didn't know London, Ont., was a stop on the Mario Cart Tour #disappointing" — Carolina Hurricanes forward Anthony Stewart on Twitter.
"What that person did was totally unacceptable. What is wrong with people? He is a great hockey player. Colour of one’s skin or nationality should have nothing do to with anything and I mean everything, either sports, politics, or everyday living. It's time our world grew up." — Beverly Daoust, in an email to CBCNews.ca.
"I've seen a little bit of that in my day but nothing that extreme. If someone has the nerve to do that, I mean, you got to wonder where their life's at and where their head's at." — Oilers defenceman Theo Peckham told reporters.
"We have millions of great fans who show tremendous respect for our players and for the game," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement Friday morning. "The obviously stupid and ignorant action by one individual is in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario."
Despite the disruption, Simmonds scored in the shootout, but Detroit went on to win the game 4-3.
"It was unfortunate that this incident happened but I am above this sort of stuff," Simmonds said in a statement Friday.
"This is something that is out of my control. Moving forward, this incident is something I will no longer comment on so I can just focus on playing hockey for the Philadelphia Flyers."
After the game, the Toronto native said the incident had shocked him.
"I don't know if it had anything to do with the fact I'm black," he added. "I certainly hope not. When you're black, you kind of expect [racist] things. You learn to deal with it."
Simmonds had scored with less than a minute left in the third period to tie the score at 3-3.
'Some people still have their heads in the sand'
Kevin Weekes, a former NHL goaltender and current CBC colour commentator who is black, had a banana thrown at him during the 2002 playoffs in Montreal while he played for the Carolina Hurricanes.
"I'm not surprised," said Weekes. "We have some people that still have their heads in the sand and some people that don't necessarily want to evolve and aren't necessarily all that comfortable with the fact that the game is evolving. I understand that first-hand — I'm the first black national broadcaster in NHL history, the first black broadcaster on Hockey Night in Canada.
"The reality is that there's still some people that aren't very comfortable with that. Sometimes I'll get examples of it on Twitter."
Montreal Canadiens defenceman PK Subban, who is black, heard about the incident, but felt it "shouldn’t even be a story."
"It's an unfortunate incident, but it's not a reflection of hockey or the people in hockey," Subban told CBC Friday afternoon.
"We've got a lot better things to talk about than some ignorant fan ... by us even talking about it we're giving him what he wants. Our focus should be on hockey. It's going to be a great season coming up."
Karl Subban echoed his son's sentiments to the CBC's Aaron Saltzman.
"Let's not give the banana peel the power to divide and conquer," he said. "You know hockey is doing a great job uniting us and bringing all sorts of people together, and we can't forget that."
Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, with over three decades spent in the NHL as player and coach, deemed it "despicable" after Friday's practice.
"I don't ever remember seeing anything like that [when I played], but society's a lot different today, we're a lot more open-minded about other races, creeds or what have you, so the fact of the matter is, it's just not right," Wilson said.
London Mayor Joe Fontana apologized to Simmonds and the Flyers on Friday on behalf of his city.
"It was a stupid and mindless act by a single individual," Fontana, who wants the person responsible for throwing the banana onto the ice banned from sports events in the city, said in a statement. "However, it reflects badly on our entire community. London is a diverse and welcoming city and we like it that way."
The NHL game at the 9,090-capacity John Labatt Centre drew 7,427.
The arena is operated by Global Spectrum, a subsidiary of the Flyers' parent company Comcast-Spectacor.
"Unfortunately, we weren't able to identify the individual," said Peter Luukko, president and chief operating officer of Comcast-Spectacor. "We certainly don't condone such a foolish act [like this] as a player could potentially be seriously injured. This is ninth time we have played here in London and the fans have always been wonderful to us."
Police, meanwhile, say there will be no criminal investigation.
Simmonds is among seven newcomers on the Flyers, brought in to replace a total of nine players who have departed through trades or free agency. He brings a toughness and durability after playing in 89 straight games for the Los Angeles Kings, where he was third in penalty minutes.
As for his scoring in this one, he'll take them however they come. His shot from the corner went in off Pearce.
"I just fired it hoping a teammate could deflect it; it went in off the goalie's inside pad. But I'll take it. As they say, it's not how, it's how many."
The Red Wings emerged 4-3 winners after dominating play for most of three periods. Darren Helm caught the Flyers flat-footed while killing off a penalty when he stripped Graydon Coburn of the puck at centre ice and zipped in to roof the puck over Mike Leighton's shoulder mid-way through the first period.
Valtteri Filppula gave the Wings a two-goal spread in the second until James van Reimsdyk snapped a rebound past Detroit starter Ty Conklin. Ian White pumped in a power-play screened shot early in the third period and the Wings appeared to be on their way.
But the defensive zone control they exhibited until then seemed to evaporate in the late going, and Matt Carle on a screened power play shot, then Simmonds's score, extended the game.
With files from CBCSports.ca