December 29, 2012
Robert Browning’s office, East Cup Headquarters, Buffalo, New York County, Ontario
Subtlety was never East Cup Commissioner Robert Browning’s strong point.
As soon as you entered Browning’s office, you would be overwhelmed by Browning’s ornate displays of hockey memorabilia, collected throughout the years strewn all over his office, while his office walls were wallpapered with the degrees and awards that he won. Large bookcases adorned both walls, adding to the cavernous feel of the already massive office. Behind Browning’s large desk was a floor to wall Plexiglas window pane, giving him an incredible view of the downtown Buffalo nightline from his tenth story office. Relatively young at 47 yet very accomplished, Browning spent 16 years building the Dixie Professional Hockey League from a ragtag bunch of misfits into a respectable hockey unit before becoming the Eastern commissioner before the season began. A native of Red Grove, Mississippi (ten miles west of Gulfport), Browning has a long history with the game, having played and refereed the sport locally since he was three years old, picking up the game from his transplanted Michigander father Earl.
Still, despite the comforts his knowledge of the game brought him, Browning hated days like this, wishing players could just learn to respect each other so he wouldn’t have to worry so much about suspending them. The receptionist buzzed Browning on the intercom, telling him that Colorado Rockies star, Swedish player Jesper Mattson, had arrived- late- for his hearing, concerning a wild elbow he threw to Pittsburgh Penguin Petr Taticek the night before.
“Send him in,” said Browning through the intercom, doing his best to hold his sigh.
Minutes later, Mattson, Rockies General Manager Rico Garner and Penguin General Manager Scotty Banshaw emerged through Browning’s large doors. Garner was leading Mattson to Browning’s desk, with Mattson, hanging his head low the entire time, fitted with chains across his hands and across his ankles and wore an orange jumpsuit. Garner walked in front of him, holding his “leash”, with Banshaw emerging just behind them.
“Get him out of that!” snapped Browning with unconcealed disgust as soon as he saw the display. “I’m the East Cup Commissioner not the prison warden!”
“Yes,” said Garner ominously through his baritone, “that is true…but far too often you are the judge, jury and executioner. Very often, coming into your office is no better than coming into a prison.” Banshaw, who hid his own dismay of the display while walking behind the duo, smirked at the ridiculousness of Garner’s comment.
“Don’t be absurd,” replied Browning to Garner with anger. “Your petty display was a misguided ploy to curry my forgiveness by somehow making me believe that I have been unduly harsh with my previous diktats, when all your theatrics show me is that your bone of contention is conspicuously weightless and its logic fleeting.”
“Um…” said Garner, confused, “can you repeat that in English?”
“Your argument sucks,” wryly deadpanned Mattson, getting a feel for his wrists now that he was out of his handcuffs. “Seriously, Rico, do you know nothing about law? If your argument makes sense, then we shouldn’t need elaborate displays to get our point across.”
“Moving on,” said Browning impatiently. “Jesper, I’m of the utmost certainty that you are cognizant behind the premise of your attendance in my secondary domicile.”
“Yes I am acutely aware of that,” said Mattson, nodding his head.
“Will somebody tell me what the heck they’re saying?” said Garner, confused.
“Oh will you shut up?” replied Banshaw, frustrated. Banshaw was too used to Browning’s tendency for sesquipedality, and didn’t have much patience for the questions of the newcomer Garner.
“Now that your incessant nattering is concluded,” said Browning, directing his attention momentarily to Banshaw and Garner, “let us proceed with the motion picture telecast of Mattson’s most untoward undertaking”.
The video of Mattson’s elbow on Taticek played immediately after the large projection screen emerged from the ceiling. There, the four saw how Kurt Sauer’s potential game-tying goal was snuffed out by Mattson’s elbow, as referee Don Koharski spotted the infraction a mere fraction of a second after Sauer had released his shot. The camera, trained on Mattson, showed him having his eyes in Sauer’s direction the whole time, with Mattson having to jostle with Penguin defenders in front of the crease to be in the proper position to screen Penguin goaltender Jocelyn Thibault. It was during this jostling that Mattson’s elbow flew into Taticek, sending his head careening into the nearby goalpost causing him to splay onto the ice beside the net motionless. Banshaw has his head buried in his hands the whole time, distraught for his player, Garner made silly hand gestures many times after the hit while Mattson cocked his lips to his left, remorseful for what he had done.
“A quite pitiful sequence of occurrences that,” said Browning stoically after stopping the video. “Now, before I construe the accurate degree of contemptibleness from this episode, I shall initiate my queries of each of your insight into the acuity behind Mr. Mattson’s unfortunate endeavour.”
“Will somebody tell me what the heck he is saying?” replied Garner, flummoxed.
“Oh I give up…” said Banshaw, slapping his forehead in exasperation.
“Mr. Garner,” said Browning, “will you embark on the journey of the travails your mind has witnessed in assessing our most unfortunate incident?”
“Um…what?” said Garner, confused.
Banshaw by now couldn’t hide his annoyance. “He’s asking you what you thought of the play,” said Banshaw, frustrated.
“Oh,” said Garner, a light going off in his head, “well why didn’t you say so?”
“Can you just tell us your side of the story so we can move on with this thing?” said Banshaw, visibly irritated.
“Well…um…okay,” started Garner, nervously. “Here’s what I saw…you’ve got Jesper…he’s fighting for positioning in front of the net. There’s this big mass of bodies in front, and of course he’s going to push and pull to get in the proper position to screen Sauer’s shot. As you can see on the film, I don’t think Jesper even knew who was behind him, so this can’t be ruled as a premeditated attack…in fact, I really believe it was just adrenaline that kicked in which made his elbow more vicious than it actually was…when we’re all excited we tend to put more force into something than we normally would…that’s what I think happened.”
“Mr. Mattson,” said Browning, “your concurrence or refutation?”
“Oh I definitely concur with my manager,” said Mattson. “I had no idea where Petr was. I was just trying to flail away with my arms just for leverage…I didn’t mean to hit anyone, and I definitely didn’t want to hurt him. There’s no one more sorry that happened than me…it was just a normal scramble play that went horribly wrong, and I feel awful for that.”
“Bulls---,” screamed Banshaw.
“I condemn you for your inconsiderate vulgarity!” rebuked Browning, “a monetary penalty shall be assessed to you, post haste.”
“I don’t care about whatever g-d-mn fine you give me,” said Banshaw, defiantly. “None of it can even remotely repair the damage this reckless bastard has caused to my player! I grant that Petr will make a full recovery, but I think we can all agree that this incident could have been a lot worse!”
“Mr. Banshaw!” replied Garner, angrily. “First of all, your language is incredibly inappropriate, and the fact that you resort to such attacks indicates to me that it is you that doesn’t have much of an argument.”
“So says the man who just uttered an ad hominem attack,” noted Banshaw, smugly. “Irony is a beautiful thing, don’t you agree?”
“Gentlemen! Cease your sparring!” yelled Browning.
“What?!” said Garner, confused.
“Stop fighting, please!” said Browning, beginning to grow frustrated with the proceeding.
“Oh…okay,” said Garner, understanding the point. He turned to Banshaw. “Scott, I know you’re upset that one of your guys got hurt…I know I’d feel the same way if Petr hurt Jesper…but I think you’re forgetting that hockey is a game of injuries…stuff like this happens…hockey plays will unfortunately lead to injuries…there’s nothing we can do about that. Jesper received a penalty on the play, which was appropriate, but I think we’d be hard pressed to conclude that there was any kind of ‘premeditation’ involved with Jesper’s attack. He’s fighting for position…adrenalin is kicking in…he’s not likely aware of how much space Petr has between where he was and the goalpost…he just reacted…and the result was unfortunate.”
“Okay,” said Banshaw, in a fighting mood. “So if it was just ‘excitement’, then I guess Alexander Ovechkin’s hit from behind on Brian Campbell was ‘just excitement’. Or Ovie’s hit on Daniel Briere. Or Tie Domi’s elbow of Scott Niedermayer. Or Maxim Lapierre’s hit of Scott Nichol. Or how about when Todd Bertuzzi tackled Steve Moore? That was just excitement then too, right? I could go on…but I think I have made my point.”
“See, that’s where you’re wrong,” said Garner, excitedly. “All those guys were looking at the guy they hit…there’s no way that none of them could argue against premeditation, especially Lapierre. How can Jesper intend to hurt Petr if he never looks at him? I think it’s open and shut.”
“Please,” scoffed Banshaw. “Guys know where players are all the time…they’re all masters of making things look like accidents…plus…look at the tape again…look at how much force Jesper is putting into his elbow…you see his face contort revealing that he did put that extra amount of energy into the hit…he meant to hurt my player, and for that he needs to have the book thrown at him.”
“Mr. Banshaw,” said Mattson. “I’m not a dirty player…I’ve never been in this position before…I know what I did was wrong, but let’s not jump to conclusions and say that I meant to hurt him. My record proves that.”
“Ovie had a string of questionable hits too before he actually got a record,” noted Banshaw, “and we all said the same thing- that he must be clean since he had no record- while ignoring the truth. Mr. Mattson, I will give you this much- I don’t think you meant to hurt Petr specifically…but you meant to hurt someone. Tell me, were you aware of the distance between yourself and the goalpost?”
“Yes, I knew where I was,” concurred Mattson.
“Okay…so if you knew where you were in relation to the goalpost,” pressed Banshaw, “wouldn’t that mean that you’d know where Petr was in relation to it too? He was right behind you, after all…kind of hard to miss.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” said Jesper, meekly, “but I think we’re making a massive leap from me simply knowing where Petr was in relation to the goalpost and me wanting to send him into it. You’re forgetting the time of the game…dying seconds…my adrenalin is pumping…I’m going to be in ‘hunt’ mode…everybody is…we’re putting a lot more into our checks and we don’t have the time to properly think ‘okay, so much force would be acceptable to lay on the guy we’re checking so he doesn’t get hurt?’ We just react and think later…we’ve got a game to win, and we can’t second guess our moves. Besides, you’ll also see in the tape that my elbow was flicked quickly, not cocked with force slowly…I think that proves the adrenalin angle.”
“You were still extremely reckless,” said Banshaw, dismissively. “You knew where both of you were in relation to the goalposts yet you decided to still lay out the elbow…that kind of play does not belong in the East Cup, or any league for that matter. We keep on talking about teaching our players about respect and playing responsibly…we have the perfect opportunity to set an example…so, Mr. Browning, let’s do it!”
Browning sat at his desk and thought. He had a big decision to make…this could be a lengthy suspension. One game would be tacked on because of the injury- but only if the hit was deemed suspension-worthy- with another two games if the attack was deemed a headshot. If Browning thought that the hit was a premeditated headshot, that’s an additional five games- so Mattson could be out for as many as eight games, or most of the next month of games. This was a delicate decision…
“Gentlemen,” said Browning, getting up and pacing around his office to discuss his decision. “While I regret that my forthcoming pronouncement will not be satisfactory for all of the parties here in question, I must procure my rendering of the transpiration in such a manner that it does not violate the sanctity of our noble sport, and…” Browning paused for dramatic effect, “I shall therefore issue no edict with regards to further supplementary discipline, aside from the monetary penalizations I have imposed for the senseless vulgarities that have been uttered in my office. The incident in question was a heinously inconsiderate act…but I cannot conclude there was any kind of premeditation on the part of Jesper Mattson, since Mattson did not once peer into the eyes of his victim, and his actions suggest to me someone who does not intend to inflict egregious harm. The punishment proffered during the game was sufficient enough…the rule already adequately addresses the callousness of the act without being excessively retributive, as I believe the injury was more of an unfortunate consequence of the act as opposed to being directly tied to it. Furthermore, it is my estimation that if I were to police every kind of accidental malaise possible, then I would be left with no players with which to play the game, since they all encounter some kind of incident with unfortunate implications. Thus, I rule this matter closed and bid all of you adieu.”
“Uhhhh…okay,” said Garner, dumbfounded. “Can someone tell me what he just said?”
“Your f---ing pitiful excuse of a human being won’t suffer any further punishment,” snarled Banshaw, leaving the office in a huff.
“Hooray!” said Garner, high-fiving Mattson. “I want some ice cream. Do you want an ice cream?”
“No,” deadpanned Mattson, shaking his head. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Browning.”
“No problem,” replied Browning as the Rockies left the office, Browning happy to get back to his other work.