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NHL Cracking Down On Cheap Hits

Daniel Briere never saw it coming.

The Phoenix Coyotes forward was skating along the sideboards in a preseason game when Anaheim's Ruslan Salei came out of nowhere with a vicious body check. He flipped Briere backward and knocked his feet out from under him.

Briere ended up with a concussion; Salei a five-game suspension from new league disciplinarian Colin Campbell.

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While such conduct would have been punished in the past, there is a heightened awareness of violence this year. Since replacing Brian Burke as vice president in charge of hockey operations, Campbell has cracked down on headhunters and cheap-shot artists.

As the season heads into its second month, 11 players have already been suspended for a total of 32 games.

"Campbell has done just what you have to do," Buffalo Sabres captain Mike Peca said. "Some of these incidents in the past couple of years or decade may have gone by the wayside or gotten just a $1,000 fine. Now you're seeing stiff suspensions."

"Even though it may be unfortunate that a lot of these guys early on are taking the brunt of it, it's going to set an example for the future and I think he's going about it the right way."

Before the season, Campbell warned that the league would crack down on deliberate attempts to injure -- particularly hits to the head. The league is concerned about the growing number of concussions that sidelined such headliners as Paul Kariya, Eric Lindros and Pat LaFontaine last season.

Campbell has lived up to his word -- and the players have noticed.

"They are starting to address it and obviously with as many players that were out last year, it is something that the league has to address," Kariya said.

Salei's actions in the Oct. 6 game were, in Campbell's words, "reckless and dangerous." The five-game suspension has been the longest handed out thus far by Campbell.

"There can be no excuse for a player delivering this type of hit to an opponent," he said.

Nor was Campbell any less adamant about Derian Hatcher's assault on Chris Pronger of th St. Louis Blues early in the exhibition season. The Dallas defenseman punched Pronger from behind, then cross-checked him as the Blues' defenseman attempted to get up.

Hatcher was suspended for four exhibition games, the same number given to Nashville's Denny Lambert for slashing Detroit left wing Kirk Maltby. Lambert was assessed a match penalty under Rule43a, same as Hatcher, for an attempt to injure.

Other suspensions, so far:

  • Buffalo Sabres right wing Matthew Barnaby, four games for hitting Boston forward P.J. Axelsson in the head.
  • Nashville right wing Sergei Krivokrasov, three games for high-sticking St. Louis' Jim Campbell and then using his gloved hand and the butt-end of his stick to hit Campbell in the face.
  • Montreal defenseman Dave Manson, three games for hitting Axelsson in the face with his elbow.
  • Colorado right wing Keith Jones, two games for delivering a check to the head of Buffalo forward Curtis Brown.
  • Montreal defenseman Sylvain Blouin, two games for checking from behind in a preseason game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
  • Montreal right wing Turner Stevenson, two games for hitting Buffalo forward Dixon Ward in the face with his elbow.
  • Boston forward Rob DiMaio, two games for hitting Phoenix forward Dallas Drake in the face with his elbow.
  • Buffalo defenseman Richard Smehlik, one game for high-sticking against Colorado forward Valeri Kamensky. Smehlik received the suspension even though Kamensky was not hurt.

    "They are coming down a lot harder," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I didn't think the Colorado game would warrant any suspensions, and we lost Richard for one game. So, after that, any intent to injure someone -- at least as far as going to the head -- should be reviewed."

    "We sent in two, one was reviewed, and Stevenson got two games. I thought it was just. He made a deliberate attempt to go at him."

    In all cases, the suspensions were without pay and the players were fined $1,000 -- the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.

    "He's been given a mandate which comes from the management-level people in hockey," Toronto Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn said of Campbell. "They've said we want tougher standards, so Colin has to do it. I like physical hockey, but I never like the stick work in our game or the cheap-shot guys."

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