Questionable hit and even more questionable suspension

November 5th, 2009 by Baxter Leave a reply »
Ben Fanelli of the Kitchener Rangers' status has b een upgraded from critical to stable (but serious)

Ben Fanelli of the Kitchener Rangers' status has b een upgraded from critical to stable (but serious)

Not to say I don’t feel sorry for Ben Fanelli after taking a monster hit from Michael Liambas. Fractured skull, fractured orbital bone, lacerations on his face. Large blood loss on the ice from having hit his head on the metal stanchion along the glass. He wasn’t even able to breathe on his own until the day after the hit.

Yesterday, we learned that OHL Commissioner David Branch has suspended Liambas for the rest of the season, including the playoffs. At age 20, Liambas’ junior career is effectively over.

I’m not sure the suspension is warranted. Let’s break down the video:

  1. Liambas never leaves his feet. There is certainly a lot of ice covered before he hits Fanelli, but at worst, it is a boarding or charging call. His last stride is just below the face off dot.
  2. Fanelli’s goalie created a screen. Try watching the video and imagine seeing what Fanelli saw before he gets hit. I’m not sure he even saw Liambas coming, since he was too busy reversing the puck the other way. The goalie inadvertently creates a screen and Fanelli never has a chance to protect himself. Was Fanelli thinking that Liambas would not run the goalie so it should have been a pick play?
  3. Fanelli does not appear to have situational awareness. Stop the video at the six second mark. Look at where Fanelli is as he skates towards the puck which his goalie has stopped. He should have seen Liambas on his right side.
  4. Reversing the puck. At the eight second mark, you’ll see Fanelli almost over-skate the puck so it is in his skates. He has to look straight down to find it again, and then reverses it the other way. By this time, Liambas is right on top of him. Of course in order for him to reverse the puck, he practically has to turn his back to Liambas. As a left hand shot, he could have backhanded it around the net and still would have been facing Liambas.
  5. Helmet popping off. Not sure about this, but I’m willing to guess his helmet chin strap was not done up properly. By the way, earlier media reports indicated that his helmet cracked on impact. Apparently, the helmet was intact — in fact the visor was damaged.
  6. Size differential. Fanelli is 6 ft, 175lbs. Liambas is 5 ft 9in, 204 lbs. All that weight, plus something called momentum. Also, Liambas is 4 years older than Fanelli. All things being equal, that’s four more years of hockey.
  7. Perfect storm of circumstances. Fanelli’s head is right where the stanchion sits. He reverses the puck so his back is to Liambas. Helmet pops off. Visor shatters. If this was a hit along any other part of the boards; if his helmet stays on; if Fanelli has his head up and can protect himself from the hit; if…

A short 10 game suspension, maybe, for the charging. No way I would have suspended him for the entire season. If Branch was trying to send a message to the league, he has certainly done just that.

Stay classy, Ben Fanelli. We’re hoping for your full recovery.



  1. jennyquarx says:

    The whole situation is heartbreaking. It’s absolutely something you never want to see in hockey. My heart goes out to Ben Fanelli and his family. It is a parent’s worst nightmare that something like that could happen to your son while playing hockey, especially at that level.

    However, I did watch the video. My husband watched the video. We both thought it was a huge hit but not one worthy of a season long suspension. I don’t know, maybe I have an unpopular opinion. I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was Ben’s mom. But as a hockey fan, I agree with you, I am just not sure this suspension is warranted.

    It’s pretty terrible for all involved parties. I hope we continue to get good updates on Fanelli. I look forward to hearing what your other readers think about this.

  2. It’s like all the planets aligned at that one moment and went *click*.

    The suspension is too long but when you result of the hit is what it was I would think Branch felt his hands were tied.

    It also must be very tough for Fanelli’s friends and family to read and see all over the paper that the reason their friend/son etc is in the hospital is his own fault.

    Really is a shitty situation for everyone that all could have been avoided if one thing could have been different.

    This also opens the debate about if the length of suspension should be related to the length of/severity injury suffered.

  3. Burgundy says:

    @ Justin – Good point, severity vs length probably already has come out somewhere, in some form.

    @ Jenny – I couldn’t imagine having a child and seeing him go through that. I read a report that said Fanelli’s mom passed out after seeing it.

    For the record, the majority of the blood that came from Fanelli was from a unrelated set of stitches (got a high stick a day or two before), not from cracking his head open (thank god). The blood makes it look even worse.

    I find it so terrible that all the amazing talent, goals and passes in hockey are taking a back seat to these kinds of hits and devastating plays. I hate nothing more than seeing hockey players motionless on stretchers or with their face buried into the ice.

    As far as Fanelli and the suspension, I really believe Branch is trying to send a message (I think Baxter probably agrees with me, too) to the hockey world. I don’t necessarily disagree with him (seeing this is terrible and it seems like we’re seeing this more and more), but a season long suspension is too long.

  4. lol says:

    I love how everyone seems to feel worse for Michael Liambas than Ben Fanelli. Says a lot about the hockey world. Makes me ashamed to call myself a hockey fan, a bit.

  5. Burgundy says:

    @ LOL. I think there’s a lot Fanelli could have done to avoid putting himself in the risk of so much danger. With that said, everyone should acknowledge this incident is the perfect storm of terrible happenings.

  6. Zamboni says:

    At the risk of sounding like a heartless bastard (which I don’t think I am), the conversation is kind of moot. Somehow, some folks expect hockey to be played without any injury whatsoever. With the speed of the play, the size of the players, and the intensity that go along with it, there is no way to avoid these freak situations and the injuries that results for them.

    Chris Neil’s hit of Victor Hedman last night is a case in point. Change that hit a little bit and Hedman could have left the arena in the back of an ambulance as well. The fact of the matter is you either allow checking, or remove it entirely and change the game of hockey forever. This is a binary solution, black or white type of decision. The suspension that was handed down was just another shade of gray, and won’t change a thing.

    Parents: hockey allows checking. Yes they have good gear and great supervision, but think about it before starting your child on that path. If your child makes it even close to the bigs, then the risks go up. My own child didn’t want to play hockey, he wanted to play football. That is a decision that had to be made with eyes wide open, not only for the pride involved, but also the risks involved. Football, like hockey, is not the safest sport around.

  7. Goalienmore says:

    I think the suspension is justified. You must be responsible for your actions on the ice. I don’t think Liambas tried to hurt Fanelli but he did. You can point fingers in every direction, but in the end the real answer is the responsibility is on Liambas.

    Also, say he got a 25 game suspension instead of a year. The season is already 25% done, and Erie will not make the play-offs. Liambas is in his last season and is an overager, and Erie is getting an overager goalie they desperately need back.
    If he got 25 games, he’d come back to a league where he now had a terrible reputation, where he’d be watched like a hawk and could never hit a guy again without getting called on it, and all to participate in the last few games of a season on a last place team.
    It ain’t worth it.

  8. teaching tool says:

    I played Jr. several years back and was a defensemen. I feel for Fanelli and hope he gets well soon. Now on a hockey player/coaches perspective I think alot of coaches in minor hockey are going to be showing kids that hit. Keep your head up behind the net, always know your surroundings!
    The fact someone is 4 years older should have no impact on the suspension at hand. If you are “good” and “old” enough to play major junior then you should be “old” and “good” enough to know not to put yourself in vulnerable positions. Had his head been up all you would have heard around the rink once he got up from the nice hit was “welcome to the league”……..

    lastly, does anyone know if the goalie who was obstructing his view was telling him “Man on” or was he also in the days like his teammate was behind the goal line?

  9. Burgundy says:

    That’s a great post, Teaching Tool.

    This is purely speculation on my part, but I don’t think the goalie was yelling “man on” or giving Fanelli any insight into what was about to happen. Someone would of mentioned that by now and Fanelli’s actions would probably reflect that.

    It’s almost impossible to not feel terrible about the hit and what happened to Fanelli, but Baxter put it perfectly when he said it was the ‘perfect storm’ of terrible mini-situations.

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