Lengthy wait for Johnston to thrive

A message has been sent by the BCHL when it comes to headshots.

Garrett Hendrickson tries his best to get the puck near the net during a 7-1 loss against the Chilliwack Chiefs on Sept. 24. The rookie

Garrett Hendrickson tries his best to get the puck near the net during a 7-1 loss against the Chilliwack Chiefs on Sept. 24. The rookie

A message has been sent by the BCHL when it comes to headshots.

It’s something they won’t tolerate and the precedent was set with Penticton Vees captain Logan Johnston getting a 20-game suspension.

For those who didn’t take in the Sept. 17 exhibition game between the Vees and Coquitlam Express, Johnston took exception to a slash to teammate and went after Cody Michelle, an Express forward. Grant Kerr, a retired journalist and an assistant coach for the Express, mentioned the incident in his Behind the Bench article on the team’s website.

“Johnston was involved in an ugly incident in the third period Sept. 17 when he viciously cross-checked Cody Michelle of the Express in the face, resulting in a double fracture of Michelle’s jaw,” wrote Kerr.

“Michelle is out indefinitely while Johnston sits out one of the longest suspensions ever handed out by the league. He was assessed a match penalty for deliberate attempt to injure by the game official. Hopefully this suspension sends a strong message to all BCHL players that illegal hits to the head will not be tolerated.”

Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson said it is unfortunate the BCHL is still “to the point where we’re not able to get to a four-man referee system every game.”

“I don’t think that situation would have happened if we had another referee behind the play,” said Harbinson prior to finding out how long he would be without his captain.

“Their player took a really vicious swing at one of our top guys and I think Logan tried to defend. Everyone is getting ingrained that you can’t fight anymore. He tried to send a message with a bit of a cross-check and I think it slid up the shoulder pad and into the facial area, which is not what he was trying to do.”

It’s not surprising that he received more than the minimum three games, which is given to guilty players assessed match penalties,  because when the BCHL initially posted the suspension on its website, it listed him as being suspended indefinitely.

What doesn’t help Johnston’s cause when it comes to Dave Sales, disciplinarian for the league, is that he was suspended for four games last year for a cross-checking incident. With this incident, there was no video of that play to assist Sales. The evidence on Michelle’s face likely helped.

The Vees filed an appeal and the league’s review committee decided the suspension wasn’t long enough after further review. They increased it by five to 25 games.

It’s unfortunate because the Penticton minor hockey product is fun to watch and has paid his dues to get the chance to play with rookie Mario Lucia, a Minnesota Wild draft pick, and Travis St. Denis. The trio developed a strong nucleus and looked to be a damaging line. Johnston showed early last season he can be a threat offensively. In the first 15 games, the six-foot-one, 208-pound winger was second on the team in points with 12. He finished with 32 points in 56 games.

Once Johnston returns to action, hopefully he will send shock waves throughout the league as he proves just how good he can be.

What’s unfortunate is it doesn’t appear that teams in the league have learned from this or got the memo from the BCHL.

In the Vees’ second game against the Chilliwack Chiefs, the game sheet shows that Chiefs forward Spencer Graboski was given a two-minute penalty and a misconduct for a blow to the head. Late in the third period, Vees defenceman Kyle Beaulieu is guilty of the same thing.

The same problem is happening in the NHL.  Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman James Wisniewski will miss eight games for a check-to-the-head. Buffalo Sabres forward Brad Boyes has been suspended. Players cannot use the excuse that they are getting caught in the heat of the moment to justify their actions. When will more respect be shown?

Emanuel Sequeira is the sports editor for the Penticton Western News.