Mike Grier

Boko Imama fought Brandon Manning in first AHL meeting since racist incident

Bokondji “Boko” Imama and Brandon Manning dropped the gloves during their first AHL meeting since Manning was suspended five games for uttering a racial slur at Imama. As you can see from the video above, Imama ended up winning that fight with Manning.

Imama wins fight with Manning, has quite the night

Imama didn’t just win that fight; his team also won the game. In fact, Imama’s Ontario Reign set a franchise record by beating Manning’s Bakersfield Condors 10-3.

Imama generated a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a goal, assist, and that fight. With all of that in mind, it’s not too surprising to see Imama beaming (and distracted) in a postgame interview:

Imama didn’t directly address the Manning fight there, but perhaps he felt that his Jan. 22 statement was enough? Manning apologized via a statement on Jan. 21, noting that he had a chance to speak with Imama after the incident.

Of course, no win (in a fight or a game) erases what Manning said to Imama. It also won’t silence critics who believe that a five-game suspension wasn’t enough. Racism remains a problem in hockey, at the AHL and NHL levels, and beyond.

How NHL, AHL has handled past incidents, and potential future approaches

After all, we are only a few months removed from Bill Peters resigning as Calgary Flames head coach after Akim Aliu shared details about Peters’ racist remarks from their AHL past.

There have been several incidents that became public at the NHL level, too. Chris Simon was suspended three games for using a racial slur toward Mike Grier in 1997. The league suspended Krys Barch for an alleged comment toward P.K. Subban (one Barch denied). Players have also faced plenty of ugly racist incidents involving fans.

Back in December, the NHL detailed how it may handle future moments that “cross the line.” Time will tell if those changes end up being meaningful — Aliu seemed optimistic after a talk — but hopefully Friday gave Imama a measure of closure.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Mike Grier calls it quits after 14 seasons and no new job offers

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Mike Grier probably didn’t want to go out like this but after 14 seasons in the NHL, he’s calling it quits. In a career that saw him start and end with the Buffalo Sabres — while playing in Edmonton, San Jose, and Washington in between — Grier was the consummate grinder.

Grier would never win nor play for a Stanley Cup, but his value to his teams was immense. After coming out of Boston University where he was a physical menace with a powerful goal scoring ability, his game adapted well to the NHL.

While he was able to score a few goals early on, he changed into a solid checking forward. That ability to fit into the game and the systems he played is what made him such a true professional.

All that ability, unfortunately, wasn’t enough to see him land a new job this offseason as Grier’s final games were played against the Flyers in the playoffs last season. If nothing else, Grier leaves the game with a hard-hitting legacy that won’t be forgotten.

Wayne Simmonds to meet with NHL over using homophobic slur

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Things are getting a bit worse for Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds’ alleged use of a homophobic slur against Rangers forward Sean Avery caught the attention of the hockey world last night. After what Simmonds had to deal with London, Ontario over the weekend in seeing a disgusting racist display made at his expense, seeing the tables turned like this makes the entire situation more difficult to handle.

Simmonds will be meeting with the NHL to discuss the on-ice incident involving Avery. While many fans are thinking that Brendan Shanahan and his hot hand at dealing out suspensions could see Simmonds taken out of action for a period of time for the utterance, this situation doesn’t fall under Shanahan’s “player safety” disciplinary role. Instead, Simmonds will speak with Colin Campbell about the situation.

With a suspension seemingly unlikely, Simmonds would likely face a $2,500 fine for the slur. $2,500 is the maximum fine that can be assessed under the current CBA. We’ve seen the NBA put the hammer down in situations like this, fining superstar Kobe Bryant $100,000 for using a similar slur against an official during a game.

Making things all the more interesting, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is getting in contact with the Philadelphia Flyers about what Simmonds had to say. GLAAD released this statement on the situation today.

“Hate speech and anti-gay slurs have no place on the ice rink,” said GLAAD Acting President Mike Thompson. “The word that Simmonds used is the same word that is hurled at LGBT youth on the playground and in our schools, creating a climate of intolerance and hostility. He should not only apologize for this anti-gay outburst, but the Philadelphia Flyers and the NHL have a responsibility to take action and educate their fans about why this word is unacceptable.”

While these sorts of things are likely said often between players on the ice to get under each other’s skin, it doesn’t make it right and getting busted using such language makes everyone look horrible. Even worse yet, it’s nothing new for Avery to hear on the ice from opponents as he’s said before that he’s heard it from players looking to get under his skin.

Avery said such slurs remain in wide use in hockey, too. He suspects they may be used against him even more now that he is speaking out on behalf of same-sex marriage.

“People have been calling me names for 10 years just because I like to wear nice suits,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot to get me upset or to get under my skin. I’m O.K.”

Using this kind of language against opponents, be it homophobic slurs or racially-charged slurs, isn’t new and guys have had action taken against them in the past for doing so. Chris Simon was suspended for three games back in 1997 for using a racial slur against Mike Grier.

With as many cameras and as much on-ice audio as we’ve got access to these days, these kinds of situations aren’t likely to go away, but the league has to be smart about how it’s viewed by those who might be warming up to the game. As Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy said today in his great take on this situation:

Forget the impact on fans or Sean Avery or the NHL’s image. When you get bananas thrown at black players or any player gets caught using a gay slur on camera, the essential question is whether that behavior is preventing someone from trying out for a team or skating locally; about whether than behavior is discouraging someone from embracing the game.

This kind of backwards and neanderthal speech, even if used in some horrible form of taunting or pestering an opponent, is the sort of thing that no one should be able to just brush off as “boys being boys.” It’s not likely that things will change, but perhaps now players are going to be more mindful about their methodology for getting another player’s goat and perhaps get a bit of understanding for being a human in the process.

Getting in a guy’s head doesn’t mean you have to go into those deep, dark places for insults. Like a comedian might get by on swearing to get a laugh, there are guys like Bill Cosby that succeeded without ever having to curse or use other foul language. Aggravating an opponent into taking a dumb penalty is an art form and one that doesn’t necessarily need such shameful language.

A recent history of racial incidents in the NHL

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Wayne Simmonds showed a lot of class and character by taking the high road in discussing last night’s awful incident in which an Ontario fan threw a banana at him. While his private thoughts must be at least a bit different from his diplomatic public comments, here’s hoping that he wasn’t hurt too deeply by a bad apple (or a few bad apples) who did such a lousy thing to him in his old stomping grounds.

Sadly enough, you probably have to have thick skin to fight your way to the NHL as a black hockey player. It seems like these terrible gestures are pretty rare – at least at the sport’s highest level – but these moments still bruise the sport’s reputation.

While this isn’t meant to be a complete list, here are some of the more notable moments and interesting stories revolving around the topic of racism in hockey from the last 10 years or so. (Note: this list focuses mainly on the NHL, so feel free to discuss issues at the junior, college and minor league levels in the comments.)

John Vanbiesbrouck and Trevor Daley: The “Bieser” might be remembered for his fantastic, rubber rat-laden run to the 1996 Stanley Cup finals with the Florida Panthers, but others will allow a far less pleasant memory linger. Vanbiesbrouck resigned from his position as the general manager of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds after using a racial epithet in regard while discussing current Dallas Stars defenseman Trevor Daley in 2003. Vanbiesbrouck apologized profusely for his ugly comment, but the damage was already done.

Kevin Weekes, Wayne Simmonds and Peter Worrell are among the (hopefully small list of) black players who’ve had bananas thrown at them. Worrell dealt with quite a few other high-profile incidents of racist behavior, including when Craig Berube received a one-game suspension for calling him a “monkey.” As PHT discussed in the post about the Simmonds situation, Georges Laraque also accused Sean Avery of uttering the same racial remark in 2005.

Ted Nolan’s claims of prejudice: Racism isn’t always just a “black or white” issue in hockey. Former Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan is of First Nation heritage, which Nolan claimed was a roadblock as he attempted to land another coaching job. The validity of his argument is up for debate, but it seemed worthy of a mention. Regardless of that dicussion, there should be little doubt that Nolan dealt with his fair share of discrimination.

Different minority groups haven’t always gotten along very well with each other, either, as you can see from an ugly incident involving Chris Simon (Ojibwa descent) and black winger Mike Grier.

Jarome Iginla being left off one 2002 Hart Trophy ballot: Much like Nolan’s claims, this situation isn’t cut-and-dry. There could be plenty of other reasons why one award voter left Jarome Iginla off of his Hart Trophy ballot altogether, but a subset of hockey people still wonder if racism was the true catalyst. (It ended up changing the voting process, so it was a significant moment either way.)

Modern players discuss dealing with racism: Before they became the Winnipeg Jets, the Atlanta Thrashers were trying to improve themselves on the ice and at the box office by adding a relatively large amount of black players to their roster. CNN caught up with some of the Thrashers’ black stars to ask them about racism in the sport.

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American History X and hockey: To finish things off with a random but interesting anecdote, Frank Meeink – a former skinhead who served as the loose basis for Edward Norton’s character in the film “American History X”began to dispel his racist viewpoints when he started playing ball hockey with black players.

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Hopefully this was an interesting snapshot of a troubling issue for the sport, but if you want to go back deeper into the history of black hockey players, click here.

Zack Kassian hopes to make Sabres’ roster, walk the line between physical and illegal hits

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There will be plenty of debate about the wisdom of the Buffalo Sabres’ spending spree, but when it comes to the makeup of the teams’ fleet of forwards, there should be little question that the team leans more toward finesse than last season. From their skilled set of wingers to new acquisition Ville Leino and rehabbed center Derek Roy, the team might lack a bit of sandpaper – especially since rugged defensive players such as Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer are no longer on the roster.

His future might not look as bright until the salary cap dust settles, but one forward who might try to fill that physical void is polarizing prospect Zack Kassian. The 13th overall pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft has become notorious for his thunderous – and some might say, dirty – hits, particularly two blows that earned him suspensions.

Kassian admitted that he regrets the hit he landed on Matt Kennedy that earned him a 20-game suspension in his first game with the Windsor Spitfires in 2010. He believes that the negative attention from that check on Kennedy bled into the decision to suspend him for what he believes was a clean hit during the 2011 World Junior Championships.

One can debate the validity of Kassian’s claims, but it’s likely that he will make an impact in Buffalo sooner or later. Again, the Sabres need to sort out their cap issues – they’re currently about $3.6 million above the ceiling. Once they do, Kassian could bring an intriguing mix of size, physicality and scoring prowess to the table at an affordable $875K cap hit … if he can manage to avoid getting suspended.

Kassian will try to make the Buffalo Sabres out of training camp next month, but even if he is unsuccessful, logic suggests he will end up in uniform at some point this season. He has so much of what the Sabres seem to need, with a low salary cap hit off the ice and the lurking promise of a massive hit on the ice.

“I need to play with an edge, but I have to make sure I don’t cross that edge,” he said Tuesday. “With all the skill Buffalo has, I think they need some grit and definitely some people that are hard to play against to give those skilled guys some room. I feel like I can fill that job, and hopefully, I can do it sooner than later.”

The Sabres picked Kassian 13th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and they have seen their prospect earn nationwide exposure in Canada for reasons both good and bad. He has been a Memorial Cup champion and a member of Canada’s national junior team, but he has also briefly been the star of junior hockey’s most wanted list.

It’s likely that Kassian will be on the Sabres’ radar until he makes a prolonged impact at the NHL level, but he’ll also get plenty of attention from officials who are aware of his lower moments. If Kassian can find a way to bring that edge without going over the line, he’ll be a serious asset for Buffalo. That might be a big if, though.