The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League hopes it has sent a strong message against dangerous, illegal hits by suspending Patrice Cormier for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
The league handed down one of the longest suspensions in its history Monday when it banned the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies centre for elbowing Quebec Remparts defenceman Mikael Tam in the face and sending him to hospital with brain trauma and several broken teeth in a game Jan. 17.
League disciplinarian Raymond Bolduc, who took a week to investigate the incident before rendering his decision, called the hit "dangerous and unacceptable."
"The message is very important - we don't want those types of gestures in our league," he said.
In Quebec City, the Remparts were satisfied with the decision, and said it was up to Tam and his family whether to pursue legal action against Cormier. Tam is to undergo further medical tests this week to determine the extent of his injuries and when, or if, he will be able to return to the ice.
Patrick Roy, the club's co-owner and coach, said the team will support the player in whatever he decides.
"I don't think anyone was happy giving Patrice Cormier such severe punishment but I think we've reached the point where we have to give a serious reminder to our young players," said Roy. "When the premier (of Quebec) says that maybe some people weren't getting the message, then maybe it's up to the league to do that."
Cormier has five days to appeal the suspension. Neither he nor the Huskies had any immediate comment on the ruling.
The video of his ugly hit has been replayed several times over the past week. On the play, Cormier came off his team's bench and caught Tam with an nasty elbow in the neutral zone, sending the Quebec defenceman into convulsions.
Tam, 18, spent two days in hospital. He returned to Quebec City, his hometown, on Tuesday.
QMJHL president Gilles Courteau said the league's board of governors would look into stiffer punishment for hits to the head and a program would be launched to educate players on dangerous hits and the effects of concussions and other head injuries.
The league brought in tougher suspensions before the 2008-09 season that were designed to reduce on-ice violence. At the time, though, they were mainly aimed at fighting.
But he said the Cormier hit was "an isolated incident."
"We haven't seen any increase in stick penalties - slashing or cross-checking," Courteau said. "This wasn't something we see on a regular basis."
He said the message in the suspension was that "players are responsible for their actions."
"As league commissioner, it is my duty to put in measures to educate our players and hold them accountable," he added.
Los Angeles Kings coach Terry Murray applauded the ruling.
"I think there has to be a message sent," he said after his team's practice in Toronto. "It's important that the vicious hits get cleaned up in the game of hockey. To me it's fair. I don't like to see young guys get penalized too severely but in the situations I'm seeing in the game today, I believe it's really important for the people in charge to send the right message to the game of hockey."
Cormier was the captain of the Canadian world junior team and is known as a physical player. He hammered Sweden's Anton Rodin with a similar elbow to the face during an exhibition game prior to the tournament in December.
The 19-year-old from Cap-Pele, N.B., was drafted by New Jersey in the second round in 2008 and signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Devils last summer.
Under an agreement with the NHL on players under-20, Cormier is unable to play for the Devils or their American Hockey League team until Rouyn-Noranda is finished with the QMJHL playoffs.
He can play in lower-tier professional leagues, but Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said his team "will honour the league's suspension, have not considered, and will not explore other avenues for his return this season."
He wished Tam a speedy recovery, and also said the incident "does not reflect the character of the Patrice Cormier we know. We trust that Patrice will have learned a valuable lesson that will serve him well when he returns to hockey as a valued player in our organization."
Cormier has expressed regret for the elbow, which he called a "reflex" action.
Bolduc suspended Cormier indefinitely last week while investigating the hit. With the two games he had already served plus the 18 games left on the Huskies' schedule, it amounts to a 20-game ban for the regular season, equalling the league record set by two suspensions handed out in the early 2000s.
Cormier's will be longer because it includes the playoffs.
If the Huskies win the QMJHL championship, Cormier can apply to the Canadian Hockey League executive committee to be allowed to play in the Memorial Cup tournament.
There have now been three long suspensions handed out in major junior hockey this season.
The Ontario Hockey League banned Erie Otters forward Michael Liambas for the season and playoffs after he hit Kitchener's Ben Fanelli from behind Oct. 30. The 20-year-old Liambas is now playing for the Bloomington Prairie Thunder of the IHL.
Last week, the OHL gave Windsor Spitfires forward Zack Kassian a 20-game suspension for leaving his feet to hit Barrie's Matt Kennedy.
Kassian was playing in his first game since joining the Spitfires, while Cormier was in his third game for the Huskies after being traded by Rimouski.
In Ottawa, Senators forward Nick Foligno said the Cormier suspension was fair.
"I'm sure he feels a lot of remorse for what he did," he said. "I don't think too many people are too disappointed with how that panned out just because of the fact that kid (Tam) was so vulnerable.
"I don't think he was really expecting anything and really, it didn't have to happen."
Murray agreed, and hopes the wider hockey world takes note.
"It's not going take away (Cormier's) livelihood," he said. "It's for the rest of this year, it's a big lesson learned and hopefully it gets sent to the rest of the hockey world the right away and we start getting away from those attempt-to-injure kind of hits."
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