It is not often that The Sin Bin covers junior hockey, but an incident that happened in a former CHL city has garnered my attention, especially with the climate in the past several years when it comes to protecting officials.
Protecting officials is something that is paramount in hockey. Whether you agree with their calls or not, believe they’re against your team or not, or trust their capabilities to put on their skate properly the first time, they are all but innocent bystanders when it comes to the fastest-paced game around.
When you see something as blatant as what happened with Antoine Vermette slashing linesman Shandor Alphonso or debate whether or not Dennis Wideman hitting Don Henderson was intentional or due to a concussion– they are paying attention to the play at hand rather than who’s going to him them when they’re not paying attention to them.
That said, when you have something happens after a game where a player grazes a linesman while saluting the crowd then gets suspended for the rest of the regular season and playoffs makes you wonder if there isn’t something more the league wants to prove to this team, whose owner is leading a charge out of this league.
Following a 3-1 loss to the El Paso Rhinos, Oklahoma City Blazer forward Kirill Romanov came out on the ice to salute the home fans when he skated by linesman Randy Sappo and grazes the official’s side, then skated back to his bench area.
On February 7th, the WSHL told the Blazers Romanov would be suspended for the rest of the regular season and playoffs for intent to injure an official. The appeal for Romanov failed and the Blazers all-time leader in goals, assists, and points will not have a chance to add to his numbers this year, as he has 101 goals and 115 assists for 216 points in only 129 games. Romanov also led the team in points this season with 58 through 37 games.
As the video shows, it does not seem to be something to have a team’s leading scorer to sit out 13 games (seven games remain and he has sat out six) and whatever playoffs there could be for the Blazers. Sources close to the Oklahoma City organization have told The Sin Bin that in his post-game report, Sappo said that Romanov’s elbow hit him in the head or was close to making contact, warranting an intent to injure. Furthermore, El Paso Rhinos’ head coach Cory Herman, whom was the opponent for the game against the Blazers, corroborated with Sappo’s story in the post-game report and is on the committee that handed down the suspension, which happened in the middle of a six-game stretch between the two teams. The Blazers don’t deny there was contact on the hip tap, but don’t believe that Romanov’s elbow was anywhere close to making contact with Sappo’s head intentionally.
There have been instances in the WSHL of players making contact with officials in a legit intent to injure, with one happening with Long Beach Jr. Bombers’ captain Cal Owens elbowing a linesman in the ribs while the linesman was trying to push him back towards his bench during a skirmish. Owens only got two games for that. It should also be noted that the commissioner of the WSHL is Long Beach owner Ron White. Other suspensions include a Wichita Jr. Thunder player shooting a puck at a linesman after the game and only getting three games.
When you compare the incidents– it doesn’t seem like a 13-game ban is what Romanov’s fate should have been. Could it be more than that? Could it be because it was a Russian player? Could it be because Romanov is one of the top offensive threats on one of the top teams in the league? Could there be a bias against the Oklahoma City Blazers? Maybe the WSHL doesn’t like the Blazers and their front office where the brain-child of a new league that would take some of their teams in the new league’s first year.
In September, Blazers president and head coach Tyler Fleck announced that he would be starting the Central One Hockey League (C1HL) for 19 and 20-year-old players who have a chance at being drafted by the NHL, almost an advanced junior league and what could be considered a step-up from the WSHL. The WSHL will be losing five teams to this new league– Oklahoma City, El Paso, Springfield (Mo.) Express, Colorado Jr. Eagles, and Casper (Wy.) Coyotes– which takes plenty of money from the owner’s pockets in losing some bigger market teams, while also creating plenty of competition for players and maybe teams migrating over with the desire to be seen on a possible bigger stage. Sources say teams who are going to the C1HL will be allowed to field teams in both leagues next season, thereafter, the decision is up to the individual teams if they wish to continue fielding teams in both leagues in subsequent seasons.
Whether it’s bias or bitterness, something seems rotten in the offices of the WSHL. For a league that is supposed to display the best young talent for the NAHL, USHL, and NCAA; it seems to be very hit-and-miss when it comes to doling out punishment, especially when for what player it is against and how that player can affect your team’s chances whether they’re in the line-up or not. With a very scattershot disciplinary system, it’s a detriment to the players who don’t have a connection to the league front office as some other teams in this league do.
When it comes to Kirill Romanov, this is a case of a player who let his emotions get the best of him, a skilled player who traveled across the world in order to get noticed and get some footing in North America to expand his hockey career. To not be able to finish out a season because of one moment that doesn’t seem as egregious as other happenings around the league is just wrong. Romanov has acknowledged his fault and to put him out of 13 games plus the playoffs is the antithesis to what the WSHL should be doing for its players and member clubs. Maybe when he comes back for his final season next year, Romanov will holster his emotions to make him even more offensively solid and add to his already impressive career numbers.