LAFAYETTE, La. – Wednesday afternoon, the Pensacola Ice Flyers announced a player signing I never thought I would hear: the signing of former Knoxville Ice Bears defenseman Jason Price to their roster.
Price, as some of our readers are long familiar, was indefinitely suspended by the SPHL after an incident on March 11th, 2017, where Price fired a puck into the Havoc bench late in the third period of a 6-2 Ice Bears loss at the Von Braun Center. The puck struck Havoc trainer Jason Lopez in the head, resulting in a serious injury and causing hearing loss for Lopez.
Before the start of the 2017-18 season, Price petitioned the SPHL for reinstatement and was denied – meaning Price was ineligible to play for the entirety of the season.
According to SPHL Commissioner Doug Price, Jason Price and the Ice Bears reapplied for reinstatement in September of 2018 to the SPHL executive committee. Unlike the previous season, Price’s application was approved with one condition – Price was unable to sign with any team until the team was at least five games into their regular season. Price would then be considered a free-agent and free to sign with any SPHL team.
Now that Jason Price is back in the league with the Ice Flyers, how – and is it even possible – for the defenseman to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the fans and players? The signing sparked plenty of outrage on social media from fans across the league, including his new city of Pensacola. Undoubtedly, the gravity of Jason Price’s actions on March 11th, 2017 leads many to believe Price should never play in the SPHL again and I completely understand those feelings.
Prior to Jason Price’s contemptible action in Huntsville almost two years ago, he appeared in 501 games over ten seasons without any previous disciplinary action. By firing that puck into the Havoc bench, Price tarnished – perhaps permanently – an otherwise exemplary professional career.
I needed some perspective, so I had to consider a player who also had to rehab his career – Birmingham Bulls captain Craig Simchuk – as an example. On December 19, 2015, Simchuk’s second year in the league, he – at the time with the Columbus Cottonmouths – ran Peoria Rivermen goaltender Kyle Rank into the goal post. The impact resulted in a serious concussion for Rank – an injury which would eventually end his career after the season.
Note: Rank has occasionally been an emergency back-up goalie for the Ice Flyers, but has never seen game action.
Simchuk was disciplined by the league with a 28-game suspension after the hit on Rank before returning to the team in March 2016 and finishing up the 2015-16 season with the Cottonmouths. Simchuk would lead the Cottonmouths to the playoffs in 2017 before signing with the Bulls after Columbus folded after the 2016-17 season. Simchuk was named the captain of the Bulls for their inaugural season and serves in the role presently.
If there is ever a case for the rehabilitation of a player who tarnished his image based on a serious incident, I present Simchuk as an example. Since the return from his suspension, Simchuk has been a model player in the league – a guy who’s hard-nosed and plays the game the right way. Simchuk has been a leader in the Bulls’ locker room, a role model on and off the ice, and is on pace for the best season in his SPHL tenure.
So how does Price rehabilitate his career?
First, Jason Price should issue a public apology to Lopez, the Havoc, and the SPHL fans for his actions. We hockey people are a forgiving group of people and a demonstration of sincere, heartfelt remorse would be an appropriate gesture.
Second, Price is going to have to account for his actions where it really matters – on the ice. March 2nd is the next scheduled game between the Ice Flyers and the Havoc. Price is going to have to face a hostile crowd in the Von Braun Center, and if the Havoc demand their rightful pound of flesh, Price is going to have to answer the call.
Finally, Price will have to be a model player for the rest of his career. The league is sure to have a zero-tolerance policy on Price for the remainder of this season. There is no excuse for Price’s actions two years ago – he screwed up in a massive way. Although Price was a leader and a model player prior to March 11th, 2017, any misstep could – and should – result in his permanent removal from the league.
Like Craig Simchuk, Jason Price has been granted a second chance to play professional hockey. Simchuk made the most of his opportunity and has become an excellent example of redemption in the SPHL. Hopefully, Price makes the most of his. I wish him nothing but the best.
Note: The Sin Bin reached out to both the Pensacola Ice Flyers and Huntsville Havoc in writing this piece, without comment.