Liambas At It Again
Back when I was writing for Crash the Crease, the most commented on piece that I wrote addressed the Michael Liambas hit on Ben Fanelli on October 30th of 2009.
I wrote the piece that night after getting home from the game. I'd witnessed Ben Fanelli's head driven into stantion at the Kitchener Auditorium. I got to see the blood pool around his head as his teammates held a silent vigil. Like a lot of Major Junior fans, I awaited good news from the hospital over the next few days.
I also used the forum that I had to rather vehemently condemn Mike Liambas. I said at the time, that he was a reckless player with a history of dangerous and disrespectful play directed at his opponents. I said that it was a charge, that it was an elbow and that he targeted the head. I stand by all of that. I said Mike Liambas was a goon and should be booted from the OHL.
And David Branch did just that about five days later.
Erie General Manager Sherry Bassin got on TSN and Sportsnet and said that Liambas was a good kid, a good student and nobody's goon. Bassin is a class act General Manager with a long history in the OHL. No one could expect him to do anything other than defend his player and he's full marks for doing it.
So, Mike Liambas took his game to the IHL with the Bloomington Prairie Thunder. Seventeen games into his IHL career, Liambas ran Muskegon Lumberjacks defenseman Jason Lawmaster from behind into the boards rupturing his spleen. No penalty was called on the play, but Liambas was later assessed a five game suspension by the IHL.
In the offseason, Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, announced that Liambas would be invited to the Leafs rookie camp. Burke felt the OHL had been too heavy-handed in dealing with the former Erie Otter and that Ben Fanelli's injury was really the result of the stantion, Fanelli's loose helmet and just about anything but Liambas' mindless play.
Brian obviously ignored the IHL incident.
But maybe the third time will keep any future team from allowing Liambas to inflict himself on opponents.
On Friday night, Liambas - now a member of the UBC Thunderbirds - retaliated for an apparent trip by jumping and pummeling University of Alberta Golden Bears forward Eric Hunter. Hunter was forced to leave the game with a concussion and severe lacerations to his face.
Toughness has a place in hockey. You can call it what you want, call it grit or truculence or heart. We've had plenty of colourful characters in the game who could hit, fight and play the game. But hockey is not about mindless violence. It's incidents and players like Michael Liambas who give ammunition to those who claim that physicality is more of a detriment than an asset to the sport.
In 1998, Jesse Boulerice took his stick and swung it like a baseball bat striking Andrew Long in the face. Long fell to the ice and went into convulsions. Boulerice was charged with assault but ultimately allowed to continue playing. Boulerice would repeat his action as an NHLer, striking Ryan Kesler in the face with a cross-check earning himself a 25 game suspension. Helping to prove that players who play this kind of game will always play this kind of game, regardless of what level they're playing at.
The OHL has taken a zero-tolerance policy with talentless players like Liambas whose only purpose is to play a brand of dangerous hockey that serves no other purpose than to be intimidating. It is time the rest of the hockey world started recognizing these players and making it prohibitively difficult for teams to employ them.