The American Hockey League has long been known as a fairly rough and tumble league, made up of players on the cusp of making the NHL and others on their way down and out of the game. It’s that physical play that sometimes is the determining factor as to who will leave the buses behind and reach the NHL.
But by and large the events of Friday night in Hamilton moved beyond the norm, as violence replaced toughness in its ugliest form. The Copps Coliseum crowd witnessed one of the most brutal on ice attacks to ever take place in professional hockey, surpassing perhaps the Brashear/McSorley incident, the Ted Green/Wayne Maki duel in Ottawa so many years ago, or the much publicized Bertuzzi/Moore attack of March this year.
Alexander Perezhogin of the Hamilton Bulldogs, reacted to a slash from Cleveland Baron Garrett Stafford by taking a baseball swing at Stafford’s head, striking in full in the face, knocking out numerous teeth, a broken bone in his face and a third degree concussion. The moment where you feel your complete sense of disgust was the video of Stafford lying on the ice in a pool of blood, convulsing as medical personnel struggled to clear an airway in his throat. Watching that you just wonder what has become of the sport.
Obviously an isolated incident, it once again underscores the complete lack of respect that occasionally flashes during the heat of battle. Perezhogin just lost it completely, there can be no defence offered for his actions, suspended indefinitely pending a review, he awaits a decision on his fate. But short of hiring Clayton Ruby to handle the defence, it seems unfathomable that he’ll be in an AHL uniform anytime soon, if ever again.
For Hockey the incident puts violence back on the front burner, just as the playoffs wind down the Stanley Cup path. Hamilton police are presently investigating the incident with an eye towards possibly filing criminal charges. Perezhogin was a rising star with the Bulldogs, having appeared in the AHL all star game this year, and was a likely prospect at next years Montreal Canadiens training camp. All of that would appear lost now, his inability to control his emotions in the heat of battle sent a fellow player to the hospital, and it most likely has also cost him a shot at reaching the NHL. The native of Kazakhstan most likely will be returning home for good, that is unless he ends up spending time as a guest of the Queen in prison.
The dream of a pro hockey career most likely quashed thanks to extremely poor judgment, some things can’t be taught by a coach, some things you just have to know in your heart. Respect for a player still is not a given, until the players learn how to control their emotions and control their sticks the ugly side of hockey will continue to make headlines. One hopes that the headlines one day don’t turn into obituaries.