In case you missed it, Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien went off the deep end last night against the Minnesota Wild, attacking a fan in the stands. After being assessed a ten-minute misconduct after a light tussle with Wild forward Brad Staubitz late in the second period, Rypien headed back to the Canucks locker room. On the way there, Rypien was seen reaching into the stands to grab a Wild fan who, on video, appeared to be mock applauding the Canucks enforcer. After the game, Canucks forward Manny Malhotra had a few words in support of Rypien. Get out your incredulity, you’re going to need it.
Rypien was not available for comment after the game, but Malhotra thought the fan “got a little bit too involved.”
“There’s boundaries that should never be crossed. We’re in our area of work,” he said. “We’re all for the hooting and hollering and supporting your team and saying whatever is tasteful. But as soon as you cross that line and want to become physical with a player then we have to make sure we take care of ourselves. … We have no idea of what their intentions are.”
We’ll point you in the direction of the video once again on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. Of course, we don’t know what’s being said by the fan, but from this video it appears that Manny Malhotra may have missed a couple of things along the way. That or Rick Rypien tells one hell of a good story in the locker room.
That said, it frankly doesn’t matter what the fan was saying to Rypien at all. The fan could’ve been one of those stereotypical drunken louts that cooks enough up enough foul language to make your stomach turn. Rypien has to know, just like every other professional athlete on the planet has to know, that going into the stands to confront a fan is absolutely forbidden and will be met with stiff punishment.
Making things a bit more awkward here is the fan in question here appears to be a bit young and not quite of the age to be a drunken lout. Maybe getting loaded on soda causes new, funky reactions in people. Regardless, confronting someone who might be a teenager makes this incident about a 1,000 times worse.For what it’s worth, the fans were relocated from their seats near the Canucks bench to seats along the glass near by the Wild bench. It was definitely a good move by the arena staff to do that.
As for Canucks management, GM Mike Gillis had little to say about things.
“We’ll wait and see how the league views it,” Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis said. “I’m sure there will be a hearing of some sort.”
You better believe there will be a hearing. The Canucks next game is tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks and with punishment headed Rypien’s way, justice will be swift in arriving. What kind of justice awaits him will be fascinating to see.
This incident is ugly from any angle, but especially for NHL public relations. The league already (wrongly) gets labeled as a wanton league for allowing fights, meanwhile this whole escapade takes place because linesmen stepped in between Rypien and Staubitz to prevent them from throwing punches for the second time in the game.
Even stranger still is that Rypien wasn’t thrown out of the game for interacting with the fan. Believe it or not, there is a rule on the books that confronting a fan during play earns you an instant game misconduct. You’ll have to forgive the officials for not knowing that one right away since it so very rarely happens. Rypien did return to the bench after serving his ten-minute penalty but didn’t skate another shift before later leaving the bench and returning to the locker room in the third period.
What sort of punishment can Rypien expect to get? Expect it to be severe. There’s no real comparison here for this sort of thing under the latest regime of the NHL. Things are different since the lockout in 2004-2005 and the PR consciousness of the league is at an all-time high. Players being idiots to each other on the ice often sees wildly inconsistent punishment, but players being idiots towards the fans or media is something else entirely.
Sean Avery received ultimately a six-game suspension for assembling the media together in Calgary to insult his ex-girlfriend and get under the skin of his opponent that night, Dion Phaneuf. Think about that, six games for verbally attacking someone who doesn’t play the game just to get an opponent off his game. If anything, the minimum Rick Rypien can expect to get is six games. Going after a paying customer for seemingly no reason at all other than being a fan the punishment will be harsh and most likely double-digit games.
I know that trying to pick the brain of Colin Campbell, and maybe even Gary Bettman in this case, is a fool’s game but this kind of thing looks bad on everyone involved. It looks bad on Rypien, it looks bad on the Canucks, and it looks bad on the NHL in general. If you want to know how serious some leagues take getting rough with the fans, look no further than the NBA with how they handled the all-out brawl that went down between players and fans in a Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers game back in November 2004. The instigator of the melee, Ron Artest, was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs, good for an 86-game suspension when it was all said and done.
While the fans in Detroit did their part to help spur that situation on, Artest and other players had zero right to fight them and start a virtual riot. This incident isn’t even remotely on par with that fiasco, but expect that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will take an equally large stand in making his league appear to be serious about taking care of the fans. If I had to guess what Rypien will see punishment-wise from all this when it’s said and done, and remember guessing numbers for suspensions is madness, I’d wager that around 15 games sends enough of a message to get the job done.