The University of Alberta men's hockey team may be without its best player for the Canada West playoffs following an on-ice attack by a University of British Columbia player best known for being suspended by the Ontario Hockey League.
Golden Bears forward and captain Eric Hunter suffered facial cuts and a concussion last Friday in Vancouver after being punched in the head from behind and driven into the ice by UBC's Mike Liambas.
Alberta head coach Eric Thurston said the incident occurred late in the second period after Hunter had tripped Liambas, a first-year Canada West player who was suspended the balance of the 2009-10 OHL season for running 16-year-old Kitchener Rangers defenceman Ben Fanelli into the boards. Fanelli suffered a fractured skull on that hit.
"Liambas goes right after Hunter and drops his gloves and hits him from the side and behind, then plants him into the ice," said Thurston, who noted Hunter didn't play the rest of the game and sat out a rematch Saturday. Hunter is still complaining of headaches and dizziness and will undergo further tests in Edmonton. He may sit out the semi-final series against the University of Manitoba this weekend.
Liambas did not play Saturday after receiving a two-suspension that is under review. He recorded 82 penalty minutes in 25 games with UBC this season. The Woodbridge, Ont., native had a tryout with the Toronto Maple Leafs after his OHL suspension. He ended up playing in the International Hockey League, where he received a five-game suspension for a hit that ruptured the spleen of an opposing player.
Thurston said there's more at stake than the loss of his captain.
"I have a kid [Hunter]in business, an honour's student and an academic all-Canadian. What happens with him going to school? With his exams?" Thurston asked. "Hockey is hockey. These guys are preparing for academic life. What if he has to sit out the semester?"
Thurston said he had warned his players that UBC would play a tough, physical game and to keep their emotions in check.
"I really respect what the NHL has done with officiating and keeping the standard that first came down [on hits from behind, obstruction] Because there's no fighting in our league, we have to keep that same standard. [Canada West]has to be diligent when it comes to hitting from behind, hooking, slashing, head shots. You really have to police it. When the players know they can get away with it, they'll take it to the next level."