By Chris Block
Top Blackhawks prospect and Rockford IceHogs winger Jeremy Morin was suspended on Tuesday for the team’s next 3 games as result of an elbowing incident during Sunday’s 5-4 shootout loss in Milwaukee.
With six minutes remaining in the second period, Morin collided with Milwaukee Admirals center Joel Champagne, while chasing a loose puck deep in the Admirals’ zone.
Morin’s elbow connected with the left side of Champagne’s jaw as Morin attempted to box his opponent off the loose puck in the right corner behind the Admirals’ goal line.
Champagne was moving on the ice but did lay prone for several minutes while attended to by both the IceHogs and Admirals trainers. He was eventually placed on a backboard and stretchered across the ice before being sent to a hospital for further evaluation.
The play sequence began with a weak Champagne turnover in the neutral zone, forced by an Andrew Shaw backcheck. Seconds later, Brandon Pirri gained the Admirals’ blue line by lifting a puck, tossed backhand across the ice, leading Shaw along the far boards. Shaw won a one-on-one physical battle with defenseman Tyler Sloan and advanced that puck down low into the right corner. At this point, Morin read the play and came down from the middle of the slot in pursuit of the puck.
Joel Champagne actually should have gotten to that puck first, but he was slow to get there. Champagne saw Morin coming and pulled up to avoid a hit. Morin had time to adjust, and instead of throwing a check on Champagne, Morin chose to box him off the puck since Champagne was, in effect, surrendering possession to Morin. In seeing Champagne pull up and making his adjustment, Morin shifted his weight in turning his back to Champagne to shield the Milwaukee player off the puck.
As far as the elbow, Champagne was struck by an accidental blow from Morin’s left, trailing elbow.
Morin’s lead (right) elbow actually was not the point of contact. Morin’s momentum had carried past Champagne and his back was completely to him when the incidental contact was made. It was Morin’s trailing left elbow that made contact with left side of Champagne’s jaw before the Admirals’ forward quickly hit the ice. In attempting to avoid the contact, Champagne basically walked into Morin’s elbow.
Morin did leave his feet slightly on the play, and was extending his right arm, it appeared, to brace himself and break his momentum as he reached the end boards. The combination of those two is likely what drew the ire of AHL officials, but also made Morin’s contact and perceived intent much worse than it probably was.
The play happened very quickly. Morin’s back was to Champagne and it was obvious upon viewing the replay that it was Morin’s elevated left trailing elbow that made the contact, which the on ice officials may not have detected at game speed. Morin did not appear to swing that elbow back into Champagne. The contact was purely incidental.
A penalty was surely warranted as, accidental or not, Morin was carrying his elbow high enough that it struck Champagne in the face. However, the five minute major was certainly a reaction to Champagne’s immediate condition.
When questioned after Sunday’s game by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, IceHogs coach Ted Dent said he disagreed with the major penalty and game misconduct called on the ice. Further, Dent did not anticipate a suspension would come of the Morin-Champagne collision.
“I didn’t think it was a good call, to be honest with you. I feel bad [Champagne] got injured. I hope he’s ok, but it wasn’t a five minute major,” Dent told reporter Dave Boehler of the Journal Sentinel.
Champagne was carted off the ice on a stretcher but was alert before leaving the arena in an ambulance to be checked out at a Milwaukee hospital. After a quick check up, Champagne was back at the Bradley Center shortly after the Admirals-IceHogs game ended and Champagne spoke to the Journal-Sentinel about the Morin elbow saying he did not remember the hit but was feeling better and did not think he suffered a concussion on the play.
Sunday’s contest saw the rare occasion when the game is officiated under the two-referee system. This, for the only the fourth time this season in the IceHogs’ twenty-five games.
Referees Keith Kaval and Joe Sullivan issued Morin a 5-minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct. Alec Richards and the IceHogs penalty kill did manage to thwart the entire major penalty and maintain their 4-3 lead going into the second intermission.
Morin will miss Wednesday night’s game at Grand Rapids. Ben Smith is expected to take Morin’s spot on Brandon Pirri’s line, with Andrew Shaw. That’s the line Smith was excelling on when he was most recently recalled by the Blackhawks last month.
Morin will complete his suspension by sitting out both Friday and Saturday home games versus Peoria and Milwaukee respectively. He will next be eligible to play next Wednesday, December 21 when the Toronto Marlies visit the BMO Harris Bank Center.
In Morin’s last 10 games, he’s posted 1 goal and 8 assists, is a plus-2 with 32 shots on goal. Overall, since returning on October 14 after missing ten months with a concussion, Morin has 5 goals (8.1% shooting percentage) and 15 points in 23 games.
This was a routine hockey play gone bad. I’ve watched the play over and over and do not detect any intent on Morin’s behalf.
At worst, I thought Morin would have received a one-game suspension simply based on Champagne having to be stretchered off the ice and likely being out of action at least for a game or two.
But three games is an overreaction.
Morin does not have a history of this and has not been suspended before. This is a situation of one player playing hard and another not. Morin was not being reckless, targeting the head or even attempting to make contact at all with Champagne. Its unfortunate what happened to Champagne, but it was completely accidental.
The AHL has been suspension-happy of late.
Recently Manchester’s Cam Paddock and Oklahoma City’s Josh Green both were issued 4-game bans each for Illegal checks to the head. Last month, Worcester’s Matt Pelech was handed a 2-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of a Manchester opponent on November 23.
Houston’s Jed Ortmeyer received a 1-game suspension for a hit to the head on November 4 at Hamilton.
While it has become fashionable to poke fun at the NHL’s system of discipline, Brendan Shanahan and the videos the league now produces to explain supplementary discipline, at least the NHL provides a clear explanation.
In the AHL, there does not appear to be a fair framework for the suspensions the league hands down.
Giving Morin the three games does keep him out of this Saturday’s rematch with Milwaukee, but that’s hardly a reason to appraise this incident so harshly, and set precedent with such a suspension.
There was no reaction from the Milwaukee team following the play or throughout the remainder of the contest.
There was one fight midway through the third period (the only penalties after the Morin major) between Rockford defenseman Ben Youds (AHL contract) and Milwaukee forward Gabriel Bourque, but that was the result of a continuing physical battle for positioning between those two in front of the IceHogs’ Alec Richards.