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The Ryan Rupert Saga

Special Thanks To Bryan Thiel

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There’s a saying out there that goes something along the lines of “you can do something right 1,000 times, but still slip up that 1,001st time.”

While the OHL may not have gotten each of the last 1,000 right, they were on a hot streak. But that 1,001st time? Well…it turned a lot of heads.

By now you’ve probably heard that Ryan Rupert of the London Knights received a five-game suspension for his chop to the mid-section of Sault Ste. Marie’s Nick Cousins, an action that sparked a bench-clearing end to their game on November 11th. As the weekend passed, many awaited the discipline that would be handed down to one half of the Rupert twins, and many speculated on the length of the suspension.

There were those out there that didn’t think the incident necessitated anything more than a 10-game ban. Others began with 15, trying to use the recently-handed down Tom Kuhnhackl suspension as a basis for comparison. Along with those two groups, there was the more serious stratosphere, where ideas of suspending Rupert for the bulk of 2011/12 or longer lived.

A majority of the people fell within the last two groups, so you can imagine the outpouring of confusion and ire when it was announced the Rupert would miss five games for his actions. Just five. No more, no less.

In a league where double-digit suspensions have been consistently handed out for dangerous incidents this season marking a step forward in discipline and on-ice awareness, Rupert’s ban is a step backwards. Along with Kuhnhackl, Oshawa’s Christian Thomas was handed a 10-game suspension for a stick-swinging incident against Saginaw. The Spirit’s Josh Shalla was saddled with a ten game ban for a headshot and (ironically on the same day Rupert’s suspension was announced) both Dean Pawlaczyk and Alex O’Neil received 15 and 10 games respectively for head hits. Those are just a few of the more serious suspensions this year.

Along with that, in a multi-media world that’s dictated by video evidence and social networking, the glare on the perceived ‘miss’ intensified when the realization was reached that there was no video explanation from the OHL. Pawlaczyk had one and so did O’Neil, but if you search for a video detailing the events of the incident and the determining criteria in the suspension, you won’t find it.

OHL Commissioner David Branch did release a statement on the discipline handed down and his views on it however.

"We didn't see a baseball-style swing as some accounts had it. We viewed it as more of a chopping action. Illegal use of the stick is something of concern, but he also hit the Soo player in a place on the body that is well-protected."


Branch also took into account that Rupert was reacting to Cousins, who was suspended two games for enticing the Knights player after the final buzzer.


He discounted further discipline for bullying after Rupert threw off his gloves and punched the Greyhound player. "We looked at that, but we didn't see that as the classic case of bullying. He did hit the player, but then realized what he was doing was wrong and stopped." Courtesy: London Free Press, Slash in the Pan


The common factors in each of the suspensions up until Rupert’s were simple, with the suspensions looked upon as a lesson and a punishment rather than just a one or the other. Lessons in how to identify a player in a vulnerable position and not take advantage of him. Lessons in how to think before you act and to try and control your emotions in the heat of battle. Lessons in how to take responsibility for your actions.

If Cousins wasn’t in a vulnerable, unsuspecting position when Rupert struck him across the midsection, then he certainly was when Rupert tossed his gloves aside and jumped atop his back to pummel the crumpled heap lying on the ice. If Rupert had controlled his emotions, the argument of whether Cousins goaded him or not would be moot because this would have never happened. And in terms of Rupert taking responsibility for his actions? He instead skated away relatively free, although he lost the ‘no previous history’ argument in the process if any of this happens again.

The reasoning was there for a longer suspension, and whether you believed he should get eight or 80 games, the recklessness and irresponsibility of Rupert’s decision could hardly be disputed.

And while this has all been about Rupert and his actions, has anyone bothered to ask the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds how they feel about this? If you were to watch one of your players felled by this action and see the offender get five games, what would your reaction be?

Even more than to save it’s face today and tomorrow, a longer suspension would help the OHL going forward. Not just to support the standard they’ve implemented, but to protect Rupert. On the day of the suspension, the next matchup with the Greyhounds is 17-games away. A 5-game ban all but ensures Rupert is in the lineup for that one. While a 17-game suspension wouldn’t save Rupert from the repercussions in future meetings, you can bet that first one between the Soo and London won’t be friendly.

Should a suspension be designed to not only punish but protect? Perhaps. But these days suspensions are also designed to send a message or teach a lesson. And those messages that were delivered crystal clear before are now lost in translation thanks to this.

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