League have to get tougher before players start to act

Fight - Sheffield Steelers v Belfast Giants 23/12/12
Fight - Sheffield Steelers v Belfast Giants 23/12/12

In the last couple of seasons the Elite Ice Hockey League has done so much right. It has come on leaps and bounds in so many ways.

Things are happening right now, today that will see a continued improvement and another step forward next season.

Some things, though, you just have to scratch your head at, and one of those was the way the league dealt with the Simon Ferguson/Kelsey Wilson incident last Thursday, when the Steelers and Panthers clashed at the Arena.

Most of you will have seen the incident now; but to recap, it was a vicious two handed slash to the ribs, after a break in play as the players returned to the bench following a Steelers goal.

The only way the slash could have been worse was if it had been to the head.

The decision to ban Wilson for just three games sends the wrong message: the wrong message to players in the league, and the wrong message to players looking to come and join the league.

It says the league pays little if any attention to player protection. It says that stick infringements won’t be taken seriously and it also says the league doesn’t respect its players.

The next slash that happens, however bad, can now argue that three games is the tariff.

An American League GM told me that in his league that would be 10-15 games - a GM of a team in Sweden said the player wouldn’t see the ice for 15 games as well.

I read with interest the quotes from Andre Malo in The Star on Monday, where he said a past Steelers team would have cleared the benches. I agree, I think they would have.

The difference here is I don’t think many people realised what had happened.

There is plenty of time for retribution and I think everyone in the sport knows it will come - it has to.

If officials of the league can’t police the game correctly, then the players will have no option but to take matters into their own hands.

When the retribution comes the league will act swiftly, say that this type of confrontation has no place in the sport and then suspend guys heavily.

They still won’t have realised that it is they who will have caused the retribution; they who could have prevented it; they who should have reacted differently to the original incident.

I won’t go as far as Sir Alex Ferguson and say Simon could have been killed, but I tell you he could have broken ribs and been seriously hurt.

When will the league, and its officials, learn that they have a responsibility to the players and their protection?

So much good work could be undone by this kind of affair.

On another note, Steelers fans can’t say they weren’t entertained this holiday period: a last minute Danny Meyers goal for a point in Nottingham, a 9-4 blow out at home against the Panthers and a late overtime winner against Coventry Blaze.

Since the Dundee game the Steelers seem to have at last found their identity, and that identity is built around graft, hard work and a physical approach.

If Ryan Finnerty and his side can continue like this, then 2013 has a lot to look forward to.

Happy New Year to Steelers fans and Telegraph readers.