The latest chapter in the battle between the Rapid City Rush and Fort Wayne Komets has seen a Rapid City player sidelined for tonight’s decisive Game 5 of the Central Hockey League’s Turner Conference semifinals.
The CHL announced Saturday night a two-game suspension and fine for Rush forward Kevin Harvey, relating to a elbowing call late in Rapid City’s 4-1 loss to the Komets.
Harvey was called for a 5-minute major penalty and a 10-minute game misconduct for an illegal check after ellowing Fort Wayne’s Mike Ratchuk.
Additionally, the league announced fines for Rush wingers Colt King and Josh Beaulieu for incidents during Friday’s game. Beaulieu’s fine stems from inappropriate gestures made during the game.
The punishments are just a continuation of an intense on-ice struggle between the defending CHL champion Rush and the three-time defending International Hockey League champion Komets. The series has seen a combined 224 penalty minutes on 97 infractions in four games.
But it was a non-call in Game 2, when Fort Wayne’s Sean O’Connor leveled Rapid City winger Ryan Menei, that has generated the most acrimony.
Menei left the game with a concussion, and the CHL later issued a three-game suspension for O’Connor for violating the league’s Rule 48, which addresses blindside or lateral hits resulting in injury.
Menei missed Wednesday’s Game 3 in Fort Wayne, remaining in Rapid City for further medical testing. But he flew to Indiana for Friday’s Game 4 after being cleared by team doctors to rejoin the lineup.
Fort Wayne general manager David Franke called foul, saying Menei’s return to action was a “travesty” in pregame comments reported by the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
Franke sharply accused the Rush and head coach Joe Ferras of falsifying Menei’s medical records to sway the league’s decision to suspend O’Connor for the remainder of the series.
“Their coach (Joe Ferras), he’s a big mouth, a whiner and a complainer. And he’s a liar. Obviously, the medical records were falsified. The standard procedure for the Komets and the league is that if a player has concussion-like symptoms, he cannot play for a minimum of seven days,” Franke told the Journal Gazette.
Rush general manager Tim Hill said in a telephone interview on Saturday that he stood behind his coach and his medical staff’s decision to allow Menei to return.
“It’s not our fault that Menei’s a fast healer. We held him back for three days of testing before Dr. (Chris) Dietrich and our medical staff would clear him, and once they gave us the OK we felt it safe to put him in the lineup,” Hill said. “Falsifying medical documents is not the practice of the Rapid City Rush or our medical staff, and it never will be. Our players’ health comes first, and we would just never go down that road.
“Going after my coach, Joe’s record and reputation around the league is second to none. Joe’s always been known not only as a great coach, but a great person. To accuse him and call him names like that I think shows a lack of class. The Rush organization would never stoop to going after an opposing coach or doctors like that.”
The Komets had also demanded a suspension for Rapid City’s Les Reaney, who was whistled for a 5-minute boarding major after a hit on O’Connor later in Saturday’s game, which the Rush won 4-3. The league fined Reaney but didn’t issue a suspension.
“I have a player in Sean O’Connor who got hurt by Les Reaney, and that guy got a $150 fine,” Franke told the Journal Gazette. “Then they suspend O’Connor six games — it was only three because this is the playoffs — but even if we had O’Connor, he wouldn’t be able to play right now because of concussion-like symptoms.”
Hill said video replays showed the difference between the two hits.
“It was very clear. O’Connor saw him (Reaney) coming, turned his back and put himself in a compromising position. Les had no time to stop. Anyone who watches the videos can see that,” Hill said.
In an emailed statement from the league late Friday, CHL commissioner Duane Lewis said O’Connor’s violation of Rule 48 “clearly caused injury” and resulted in Menei missing most of Game 2 and all of Game 3.
“The injury factor is a part of the disciplinary process outlined to all teams prior to the season, but is not the sole reason for discipline,” Lewis said. “Had the player not been injured, based upon the fact that the Fort Wayne player violated Rule 48 implemented into professional hockey this season, a suspension was still clearly going to be issued, and any missed time from such a hit, in this case two games, means the player was injured due to this improper hit … typically a longer suspension is warranted as in the three games issued in this instance.
“Obviously in the timeframe that disciplinary measures need to be taken, you rarely know the extent of the injury sustained. We understand emotions run high in the playoffs, and understand frustration by any club, but we believe too much emphasis in this instance has been placed upon length of time missed by a player over the fact that any injury occurred.”
Hill chalked up the heated rhetoric to the intensity of playoff hockey.
“People have comments and they like to stir the pot. Again, I have nothing but respect for the Fort Wayne organization and the Frankes,” Hill said. “I think they’re just getting the war of words going to get their team going. If that’s the way they feel they need to do it, that’s what they need to do.”
Ferras also shrugged off Franke’s comments.
“They’re general managers and owners of a hockey club, and they’re going to stick up for their players and all their guys in that locker room, and they have no bearing on what the Rapid City Rush organization has going on,” Ferras said. “Our job is to make sure our players are protected and treated well. Dave Franke can say whatever he wants. It has no bearing on this hockey club.”