Suspended junior hockey forward Patrice Cormier's team is appealing the punishment levied against him for elbowing Quebec Remparts defenceman Mikael Tam.
On Monday, Cormier was suspended for the balance of the regular season and the playoffs - one of the stiffest penalties doled out in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League history.
If the Huskies, who are fighting for a playoff spot with 18 games to play in the regular season, were to reach the postseason and progress to the league championship final, the suspension could end up covering as many as 48 games.
André Tourigny, the coach and general manager of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, told a news conference in the northwestern Quebec mining town that the league's decision was excessively punitive.
"The Huskies have never tried to minimize or diminish the incident that took place on Jan. 17, it was a regrettable incident for all involved," Tourigny said. "As we said before the league's disciplinary committee, we were fully conscious that this act deserved a severe sanction. From our point of view, the sanction the QMJHL imposed yesterday is not severe, it is excessive."
The decision to appeal was greeted with loud applause from Huskies fans present at the event.
The 19-year-old Cormier, a native of Cap-Pelé, N.B., is a second-round draft choice of the New Jersey Devils, and was the captain of Team Canada at the most recent world junior championships. Following the tourney, the Huskies acquired Cormier and fellow Team Canada player Jordan Caron from the Rimouski Océanic in hopes of making a push for a championship and a Memorial Cup berth.
In just his third game with Rouyn-Noranda, Cormier hopped on to the ice in overtime, skated across the neutral zone and, having spotted Tam, who was carrying the puck, lined him up. Instead of checking Tam, he lifted his right elbow into his face. The 18-year-old collapsed to the ice and went into convulsions following the impact. Though he spent the night in hospital, Tam is recovering at home and is said to show little in the way of concussion symptoms. It is not yet known when or even if he will return to play.
Earlier yesterday, Cormier issued a statement to express his regret and indicate he accepts the league's punishment, but at the news conference expanded on those comments, saying, "I respect the league's decision, even if I believe the sanction to be too severe. I repeat that I had no intention of injuring Mikael Tam, and I wish him a speedy and prompt recovery."
Though Tourigny was at pains to say the team respects the league's decision to come down hard on Cormier and is on board with league efforts to stamp out gratuitous violence, "It's unrealistic for Patrice to have to suffer the consequences of past incidents."
The QMJHL introduced new rules in 2008 as part of a crackdown that followed an ugly playoff incident in which Remparts goalie Jonathan Roy - son of the team's coach and co-owner, former Montreal Canadiens great Patrick Roy - attacked an unwilling opponent and began punching him.
With a report from The Canadian Press