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Join Date: Oct 2004
Simon: 'This is unfair'
The phone in Chris Simon's home in Long Island, N.Y., began ringing at 9:30 a.m.
First was New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow with the stunning news — a 30-game suspension for "stomping" on another player's skate. Then the worst day of Simon's 15-season NHL career spun into an endless series of rings, beeps and voice messages.
He never felt so surrounded. He never felt so alone.
The toughest call — the one he would have to make himself — didn't occur until the evening.
Phil Fontaine, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called to offer support. Dozens of players called. Agents called. Other general managers called. All the hockey people offered the same message: We stand with you. But privately.
"I wish some of those guys could speak out in public," Simon said, "but they can't. I understand that. You never know when you might find yourself in the same situation."
The exact same situation would be unlikely. The 30-game penalty marked Simon's eighth suspension. It also marked a record, breaking the previous NHL mark of 25 games — set just last spring by Simon for slashing New York Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg across the face and equalled in October by Jesse Boulerice of the Philadelphia Flyers.
This one was for an incident that occurred last Saturday when the 35-year-old Ojibwa from Northwestern Ontario tripped Jarkko Ruutu of the Pittsburgh Penguins. With Ruutu down, Simon then brought his own skate down hard on the ankle side of Ruutu's skate.
It was, according to the game referees, a deliberate attempt to injure, with Ruutu fortunate to escape serious harm. It was, according to NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell, a repeat situation deserving of special attention — and coming at a time when professional hockey is getting special attention from civil court proceedings involving the Todd Bertuzzi attack on Steve Moore in 2004.
"What I did was wrong," Simon said. He has apologized and taken a "leave" from the Islanders while he looks into counselling and contemplates his future.
"I don't think it was fair," he said. "I'm not a complainer. I've never complained before. I took my suspensions and moved on. But I don't think this one was fair.
Simon anticipated the suspension, but thought 10 games would be "on the high end." Online polls and radio talk shows, on the other hand, have suggested 30 games might be on the low end.
"I wasn't trying to injure him," Simon contended. "I tripped him and I was telling him to [expletive], and I did step on his foot. I pushed down on his skate, I don't deny that, but I wasn't trying to hurt him. I don't think a player has ever missed a game from one of my suspensions.
"I look at other guys who have been repeat offenders. One guy used his skate a second time and he got only five games. What I did was wrong, but this is unfair."
He is considering an appeal to the league, even if success is unlikely.
"It's a point of principle," Simon said.
He believes those who have seen only the video do not understand the inner workings of the game. Both players, he said, were simply doing their jobs, Ruutu being the pest and Simon the one who deals with the pest.
"He plays an agitator role," Simon said. "You have to let him know you're out there. That's not an excuse for stepping on his foot, but it's being described as something it's not. It's letting him know I'm there. It's like a shot in the arm."
At no point, he said, was there any intention to cut. "Guys were laughing on the bench," he said. "I don't think they'd be laughing if they thought he was hurt."
In arguing roles, Simon is on much the same ground as Bertuzzi, who has said in court documents that Vancouver Canucks coach Marc Crawford essentially ordered up the attack on Moore, then with the Colorado Avalanche.
"If I didn't go out and do something, fight someone," Bertuzzi said in testimony, "it would have been a pretty long week for me."
It is called the code in hockey. The unwritten rules of the game. Many believe such thinking archaic and out of step with society; those who follow the code know only the costs of failing to do one's perceived job. Back in 1982, Los Angeles Kings coach Don Perry told player Paul Mulvey to "Get out there and don't dance" — and when Mulvey declined to fight, his NHL career was over.
Simon required no hint on what to do. His job was to deal with the pest, which he did. And he made a mistake that deserves punishment. But he can't help but wonder whether he isn't being sacrificed to appease a public roar for action on hockey violence.
"I don't want to think that's the way it is," he said, "but it's starting to feel like it."
The call he left for evening was to the oldest of his four children, Mitchell, off in the Dominican Republic on a school vacation.
If a hockey-mad 13-year-old thought it the wrong call, then Simon's next step would be to decide whether to appeal.
And convince not only the league, but the public, that 30 games is too much kick in return for what he did on Saturday on Long Island.