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The Spearing Suspension

Photo: Joe Tomasone, The Scrum Sports

Tuesday night’s Lightning game captured the attention of Bolts fans and the hockey world as a whole for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the home team’s 5-game losing streak (their longest since 2014) came to an end! While Bolts fans were celebrating getting back into the win column, they were also lamenting a rather egregious play that occurred during the dying minutes of the game. Former Lightning draft pick Tony DeAngelo took a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for spearing Corey Perry.

What is Spearing Anyway?

as “the act of poking, stabbing, or attempting to poke or stab an opponent with the tip of the blade of the stick while holding the stick with one or both hands.” With under 3 minutes remaining in the game, and the Philadelphia Flyers trailing 4-2, a scrum ensued in front of the Philadelphia net. Play was whistled dead and the referees were trying to settle the players down. DeAngelo then skated over to the pile of players and followed the exact definition of spearing. He picked his stick up with both hands and targeted Lightning forward Corey Perry. He speared his stick through the mix of players right into Perry’s groin area. DeAngelo was done for the remaining 2 minutes and 40 seconds of the game. The next day, it was announced that he would be having a hearing to determine whether additional discipline was warranted.

The Department of Player Safety Rules

On Wednesday afternoon, the Department of Player Safety reviewed the spearing play. They suspended DeAngelo for 2 games. But was 2 games really enough, given the grievousness of the spear?

Many in the hockey world were disappointed. Prior to the ruling, Sirius XM’s NHL Radio personalities were voicing their opinions. There was a general consensus that a 5-game suspension was warranted. Callers from all fan bases were in agreement that there simply was no place for spearing in this league. A strong message needed to be sent. And while most agreed that 5 games was appropriate, they seemed to believe that a 3-game suspension was the more likely outcome. DeAngelo did have one prior 3-game suspension in his career but it was for “abuse of an official”.

Comparing Suspensions

On February 23rd, Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak elbowed Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo in the head during their game. Cernak had a hearing. He was suspended for 2 games.

It is difficult to compare the severity of these penalties. Cernak was originally making a play for the puck and then trying to prevent a scoring opportunity. DeAngelo, on the other hand, went after another player well after the play was over. He targeted a specific player and used his own stick as a weapon to attack Perry in a rather sensitive area of the body.

Was 2 games a fair price to pay for DeAngelo’s infraction?

Cernak’s elbow to Okposo’s head was unacceptable but it was in the heat of the moment during a potential scoring play. There was no pre-meditation. Cernak deserved a suspension. One game might have been enough. Two was understandable, given that he had a previous suspension. But how is an elbow to the head during a play equivalent to a pre-meditated, deliberate, targeted spearing to the groin long after the whistle has gone to end the play?

If the Department of Player Safety truly wants to eliminate the egregious and highly dangerous act of spearing from the game, then they need to take stronger steps. They needed to set an example here. This suspension needed to be a minimum of 3 games. Five would have been more appropriate.

Physicality is a part of hockey. A good part. Part of what makes hockey the most entertaining sport to watch. But we have to draw a line. On Tuesday night, Tony DeAngelo crossed that line. A two-game suspension does not send a strong enough message.

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