On Sunday afternoon, the NHL confirmed that Arizona Coyotes defenseman – and repeat offender of off-color behavioural problems – Anthony DeAngelo had been suspended for three games.
His offense? Abuse of officials.
— Scouting The Refs (@ScoutingTheRefs) January 1, 2017
This wasn’t DeAngelo’s first offense. It wasn’t even his first offense regarding abuse of officials; the 2013 first round pick found himself in hot water back in the OHL for a zebra altercation, as well.
Things got muddled pretty quickly, given DeAngelo’s history. In addition to his abuse of officials, the former Sarnia Sting blue liner – back in the day – had earned himself a nice, hefty eight-game ban during his draft year for making derogatory comments… at one of his own teammates.
There were plenty of arguments about whether or not his behaviour as a teenager should be grouped in with judgment on his poor call as an adult in the National Hockey League.
Maybe it should be. Maybe not. Who really knows? Second chances and all that jazz.
In amidst the heated debates over his colorful past, though, were plenty of comments about how ‘soft’ the suspension was.
“If that gets a suspension, why didn’t Player X* when they charged Player Y last game?”
Let me stop you right there.
For starters, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety doesn’t handle abuse of officials, because officials aren’t players. Duh. Player suspensions for illegal plays have nothing to do with player suspensions for altercations with referees, and that’s literally been the case for ages.
Back to the ‘soft’ comment, though.
As physical contact, DeAngelo’s shove of the official was soft. Yes. It was the same kind of push a kid might give their friend when they’re mad at them and want them to go away. It certainly didn’t leave a bruise, it didn’t cause injury, and it didn’t cause the official to leave the game. He probably felt it no more than you’d feel some asshole brush up against you when they’re trying to get ahead of you in line at the bar.
The kicker, though? That’s not the point.
Abuse of officials is never tolerated. In any form. Soft, mild, accidental, ‘girly’… whatever old-school and archaic mindset you have towards the severity of abuse against an official is irrelevant.
The minute a player puts their hands on an official, they cross the line.
With players, there’s plenty of grey area. A cross-check can be soft. Boarding can be, well, borderline. Charging can be murky, and don’t even get me started on goaltender interference.
That’s because the players are involved in a physical game, and they put on their gear with the mindset that they’re going to be making physical contact. Players are eligible to be checked, shoved, collided with, and knocked around.
Officials, on the other hand, are not. End of story. Done. That’s it. That’s the rule.
As an official, one has to be confident that they can intervene in a tense moment on the ice without getting harmed. An official has to feel safe when they break up fights, because they aren’t wearing the same protective gear. They aren’t out there to play a physical game; they’re out there to regulate.
Is officiating still a physical job? Of course. You get hit with the puck sometimes. Players run into you sometimes. You end up in the middle of the play sometimes. Sticks catch you sometimes.
That’s very different, though, from having a player physically attack you.
No matter how soft a shove, a player getting physical with a referee is saying ‘I don’t respect the boundaries in place to ensure you remain safe when you break up an altercation.’ There should be no grey area with physical contact inflicted upon a referee, because that adds hesitation to the official’s mind when it comes to intervening. An official has to feel confident that they can break up a situation without being targeted by a player; if any form of shove goes unpunished, it’s saying that actively making contact with the referee is permissible.
Three games may seem like a lot for a soft hit – and yes, DeAngelo’s ‘shove’ of the referee was soft. Soft as a baby’s ass.
What the shove also was, though, was intentional. And that. Isn’t. Allowed.
Does that make sense now?
Cool. Enjoy your suspension, Anthony. Next time, try to be a little less stupid.