BY MIKE BROPHY
The Ontario Hockey League has suspended Michael Liambas for the balance of the 2009-10 season including the playoffs.
Liambas was suspended indefinitely Friday night after hitting 16-year-old Ben Fanelli, a hit that resulted in the Kitchener Rangers defenceman suffering a fractured skull and orbital bone. Fanelli remains in Hamilton General Hospital in serious, but stable condition.
In announcing the suspension, OHL commissioner David Branch said the severity of the injury played a hand in the length of the suspension. Liambis can appeal the decision.
“I would say without question the injury played a factor,” Branch told sportsnet.ca. “Without question. The two driving points from our perspective is, players must understand they will be held accountable for their actions. A lot of them play the game on the edge, as they say. As well, we all must work together to improve the level of respect that we have in our game.”
Branch said it was a difficult decision, but one that makes s statement to players in his league.
“These things are never easy and it was punctuated Friday night when you have the injury to Ben Fanelli,” Branch said. “We wanted to make sure we got through the high emotion that everyone was sharing as to our concern for Ben. You have to make sure you gather all the information that you reasonably can from your officials and your off-ice officials as well as information from the Kitchener Rangers as to some of the events following Ben’s injuries to interviewing the player. You want to make sure at the end of the day when you arrive at your decision that you are comfortable with that decision.
“I tried to draw an analogy with Michael Liambas at the hearing yesterday that you can drive down a side street at 60 kilometers per hour in a speed of 60 kilometers per hour and if a youngster runs out in front of your vehicle and you hit that child, chances are people will say the child didn’t look both ways. But if you’re driving down that street at 90 or 100 kilometers per hour chances are you are at fault. We have got to get a perspective. In the purest sense nobody is saying the hit was illegal, but it is our opinion the distance he traveled and the speed at which he chose to travel at did not demonstrate sufficient respect. If there is an injury then you are going to be held accountable.”
Branch told sportsnet.ca he was originally concerned about how quickly Fanelli’s helmet came off after being hit, but said that ultimately had no bearing on the suspension.
“It wasn’t a factor in the end,” Branch said. “It is like everything else; you must learn from your experiences so we must learn and analyze why the helmet came off the way it did. What can we do to stop something like that in the future. We are turning that over to the experts and they’ll study and analyze it and come back to us with some thoughts and ideas.”
Branch said he hopes others will learn from the length of Liambas’s suspension.
“You have to show respect if you are asking for respect in our game,” Branch said. “We interviewed each of the (four) officials and asked them all the same question: If there was no injury on the play, would a penalty have been assessed? Each one of them categorically stated yes.”