Sunday, Jun 17, 2018
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David Briggs

ECHL shows true colors with spineless suspension

  • SPT-Walleye11-19

    Toledo Walleye goalie Matej Machovsky, right, squares off with Kansas City Mavericks goalie Mason McDonald as a fight broke out after a cross-check by KC's Garrett Klotz during Saturday's game at the Huntington Center.

    BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

  • BRIGGS-MirrorsOnSport-12

In the real world, assault with a weapon might carry eight years in prison.

In the ECHL, it gets you an eight-game trip to your room.

The league and its kangaroo court sent players a clear message with its gentle grounding of Kansas City goon Garrett Klotz: Go ahead, cheap-shot each other senseless.

Just make sure you get on SportsCenter, and if it’s not any trouble, please don’t murder anyone in view of the children.

Klotz should have received a lifetime ban — hear me out — for his senseless attack of Toledo’s A.J. Jenks on Saturday. Instead ... eight games? What, was detention full?

Guess I called the wrong party gutless. Sorry, Klotz.

We reached out to the ECHL for an explanation from commissioner Brian McKenna, but got nothing.

Maybe because there isn’t one.

Here was the ECHL’s chance to show would-be Hanson Brothers everywhere its goon-squad roots are in the past — and at least feign concern for player safety — and the league completely dropped the puck.

To be clear, this is not a puritanical referendum on fighting. The occasional rumble to self-police games still has its place. Same with big, rattling hits. Hockey is a tough, violent game.

No, this is a common-sense appeal to draw the line at low-down thuggery and get with the times. Imagine if a baseball player cold-cocked an unsuspecting opponent, then used a bat to go all whack-a-mole on his rival’s prone body. He would be banished for the season, if not for good.

At minimum, the ECHL set the precedent here with its 20-game suspension of Kalamazoo’s Ben Wilson for his cross-checking assault of Walleye forward Simon Denis last spring. But if the league must make excuses for its players, you can argue Wilson — a respected veteran captain in his fifth season with the K-Wings — lost his mind in the moment.

The episode Saturday was a premeditated ambush, the work of a beer-league goon in the ECHL solely to trip over himself in between fights. Three years ago, the onomatopoeically named Klotz — who has three times as many career bouts (150) as Floyd Mayweather, Jr. — piled up 257 penalty minutes in 55 games for the Allen Americans. This year he has no goals, two assists, and 97 penalty minutes in 29 games with three teams.

That might have made him a folk hero at the Sports Arena, but times change. Look at the NHL, a speed-and-skill game where classic enforcers have gone the way of the switchboard operator. (Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki was easily the most penalized player last season, and he spent only 154 minutes in the box.) Unless the ECHL plans to introduce a No-Skills Competition to its all-star weekend, players such as Klotz serve no purpose in a modern developmental league.

And that was before he revealed himself a time bomb.

In the end, players in the ECHL, as much as they want to beat each other, are part of the same fraternity, living paycheck to paycheck — about $500 per week — to pursue their dream. They are in it together, sharing the same joys and struggles.

We’re told Klotz is a good guy off the ice, and he apologized for his actions. But the second he turned his stick into an assault weapon, he broke a fundamental trust.

“Fans say that that’s old-time hockey,” Walleye defenseman Kevin Tansey said before the suspension was announced. “That’s not old-time hockey. That’s dirty, planned assault. If the league comes down hard on them, then good riddance.”

And if not, good riddance to the league.

Contact David Briggs at dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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