Friday, December 10, 2010

There was an extremely interesting development in the WHL on Friday.
And it has to do with social media.
Early in the day, the WHL revealed that D Ryley Miller of the Brandon Wheat Kings had been hit with a two-game suspension for an open-ice hit on an unsuspecting puck carrier -- Kellan Tochkin of the visiting Everett Silvertips -- on Dec. 9.
Miller was suspended under supplemental discipline, which usually means there wasn’t a penalty on the play and one team, in this case the Silvertips, forwarded video to the WHL office.
The Wheat Kings reacted to news of the suspension by putting this on Twitter:
“WHL slaps BWK defenceman Ryley Miller with a 2-game suspension . . . for what appears on video to be a clean, open-ice hit . . . Check for yourself.”
In a follow-up tweet, the Wheat Kings provided a link to video of the hit and comments from GM/head coach Kelly McCrimmon. (Check the Wheat Kings’ home page if you haven’t already seen it.)
“I thought Ryley’s check on Tochkin was a textbook open ice hit,” McCrimmon is quoted as saying. “If you were trying to teach young defencemen how to body check it would be a perfect example. He demonstrated great angling, skating, footwork and courage in making that hit, something Wheat King fans have come to expect from Ryley.
“The suspension is very disappointing. These are not the hits we are trying to take out of the game.”
This is most interesting on a number of fronts.
First, there are very few people in the WHL who will comment so openly and on the record on disciplinary issues that are dealt with by the Calgary-based head office.
Most times it’s “no comment” or “I’d rather not say anything” or “if I say anything I’ll have to write a cheque.”
The fact that McCrimmon is so outspoken and eager to exercise what he obviously feels is his right to free speech is a breath of fresh air. Of course, you can bet that he did this with his eyes open and knows full well that -- Ch-ch-ching! -- he will be writing a cheque, likely first thing next week.
Also, the fact that McCrimmon didn’t wait for a phone call from a reporter but used his team’s website as a vehicle to present his opinion is something I don’t recall happening before in the WHL.
And I can guarantee that no WHL team has ever used social media to put anything like this before the court of public opinion.
The WHL, I don’t think, has a policy of any sort on social media. Its teams, some if not all of them, discuss with players the dangers that can be encountered on Facebook and other sites like it. Teams have had players remove what were felt to be inappropriate photos.
But the WHL has never had to deal with a team using social media to express disagreement with a decision or decisions handed down by the head office.
The fallout from the Wheat Kings’ move is going to be interesting, indeed. And I would bet that it will carry over all the way into June and the WHL’s annual meeting. Social media now is almost certain to be high on the agenda.
By the way, I have watched the video of Miller’s hit on Tochkin. While Miller may have left his feet a milli-second prior to the moment of impact, he doesn’t appear to have jumped at Tochkin, who is carrying the puck through the neutral zone with his head down. Miller wasn’t running at Tochkin so there wasn’t any intent to injure. There was intent to make a hard check on an unsuspecting player.
McCrimmon is correct in stating that these are “not the hits we are trying to take out of the game.”
If the hitter is going to draw a two-game suspension for a hit of this ilk, perhaps the hittee also should be suspended for having placed himself in danger. There was a time when you learned early on in minor hockey not to skate through the neutral zone with your head down. Are those days over?
The WHL is walking a fine line these days as it tries to find the happy medium in terms of allowing fighting and physical play in its games. If it doesn’t believe that, it need only look at some of its attendance figures and perhaps those of the UFC.
Taking Note on Twitter

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