The National Hockey League issued a fine of $1,000 yesterday to Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tie Domi for his part in a physical confrontation with a fan at the First Union Arena in Philadelphia.
Early in the third period of a game Thursday night between the Maple Leafs and the Philadelphia Flyers, Domi was sent to the penalty box. He said a couple of fans threw debris on him and he responded by squirting one of them with water.
This prompted another fan, identified as 36-year-old Chris Falcone, a concrete worker from Havertown, Pa., to charge the penalty box from his seat two rows behind it. When the heavy-set Falcone charged into the plexiglass partition on the back of the box, it gave way and he tumbled into the box.
Falcone and Domi wrestled briefly and linesman Kevin Collins stepped into the box. It appeared that Falcone punched Collins before Domi gave him a shot and some security personnel intervened. Falcone, who was bleeding from his forehead, was escorted from the arena.
Falcone was not charged by the Philadelphia police.
Domi was fined the maximum amount allowed under the collective agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association. Colin Campbell, NHL executive vice-president and director of hockey operations, stopped short of suspending Domi, which means there will probably be no appeal of his ruling, but made it clear the next player who gets involved in a similar incident will not be so lucky.
"While squirting water might seem relatively harmless, [Thursday's]game shows that it can cause a chain of unanticipated and unfortunate events," Campbell said. "All club personnel have been reminded that any physical contact with fans during a game is unacceptable and will result in suspension -- and that from now on, even the squirting or throwing of water will be punished."
Domi did not make himself available for comment after the fine was announced last night. But he did say yesterday afternoon that he only struck Falcone after Collins was hit.
"I didn't want to hurt the guy," Domi said. "But when he gave Kevin [Collins]a shot, I got a little angry."
The Philadelphia police do not plan to take the matter any further unless someone lodges a complaint.
"We have not received any complaint from any of the parties involved," said Philadelphia Police Department spokesman Corporal Jim Pauley, who happened to be at the game. "I just saw a clip of it on television. I don't know if any of the blows connected. It looked more like a wrestling match. I think the guy was surprised the plexiglass gave way.
"I don't know if I'd want to be in the box with Tie Domi."
Falcone told the Daily News in Philadelphia that he does not know if he will pursue legal action against Domi, the Flyers and the NHL. "The paramedics there took glass out of my head," said Falcone, who added that he would have to miss work.
While the advent of million-dollar salaries for professional athletes and high ticket prices has made fans more demanding of players and quicker to verbally lash out at them, arena officials say physical confrontations are still rare.
Robert Hunter, the general manager of the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, said there have been no physical confrontations there in almost two years, the last time being when Matthew Barnaby of the Pittsburgh Penguins encountered a fan in a corridor after being thrown out of a game. There was no physical contact between the fan and the player, but Barnaby did about $300 damage to a wall with his stick.
The Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association have also been free of any serious incidents. There was a verbal confrontation between a fan and a New Jersey Nets player about two years ago, but no charges were filed.
"We really haven't had any issues other than player-to-player," Hunter said. "And I've not seen or heard of an increased number of incidents or altercations between fans and players on either the NHL or the NBA side."
Hunter said no special security measures were undertaken after the Barnaby incident, although at the time concerns were raised because the design of the ACC allows fans to mingle with players in the corridors that lead from the dressing rooms to the ice surface.
"No, we've made no physical changes," Hunter said. "We've just stepped up security a bit."
Over the years, there have been many altercations between NHL players and fans, incidents that have even seen players go into the stands to attack fans they believed had attacked first.
Mike Milbury, then a Boston Bruins defenceman, once hit a fan with a shoe, and players from the Broad Street Bullies editions of the Flyers in the 1970s once faced criminal charges in Toronto after invading the seats at Maple Leaf Gardens.
However, verbal confrontations are much more common, especially in rinks such as First Union in Philadelphia, where the glass partitions are low enough for fans to lean over.
"The guy shouldn't have been there in the first place," said Ottawa Senators forward Andre Roy, who was recently suspended by the NHL for trying to fight Vancouver Canucks forward Donald Brashear in an arena corridor. "It's not Tie's fault. I thought it was kind of funny when I saw it.
"I did it in the past, try to talk back to fans and squirt water. In Philly, the glass is not so high, so [the fans]are right on top of you. But everywhere you go on the road, there are fans that if you're a guy who is in the box a lot, they'll be all over you."