At what points does fighting during a Kontinental Hockey League game rise to the level of criminal conduct punishable off the ice? Barys Astana defenseman Damir Ryspayev may learn the answer.
On Monday, a KHL preseason game between Barys Astana and HC Kunlun Red Star ended just three minutes into the first period after a brawl between the two clubs. The melee began when Ryspayev sucker-punched Red Star forward Tomas Marcinko, before repeatedly punching two other unwilling Red Star players. Ryspayev then proceeded to the team’s bench where he tried to fight a third player and officials became involved. Marcinko was stretchered off of the ice and later diagnosed with a concussion.
The KHL responded by suspending Ryspayev for the remainder of the preseason and released a statement that read, in part, that a “final decision on Ryspayev’s fate will be taken in due course.” Red Star’s general manager, Vladimir Krechin, however, is reportedly seeking to press criminal charges against Ryspayev for the incident.
Kunlun Redstar General Manager Vladimir Krechin has announced that the club will press charges on Ryspayev.
— KHL News – English (@KHLNewsEN) August 9, 2016
While fighting is not foreign to the game of hockey, Krechin believes that Ryspayev’s conduct rises to another level.
“It is clear that the reason for the incident was the injury to (Barys forward) Dustin Boyd in a friendly match with our team on Aug. 5,” Krechin said via TIASS, a Russian news agency. “We sympathize with (Boyd) and wish him a speedy recovery, but anyone who saw that incident knows it was purely a game moment in which the (officials) did not even (call a penalty). Unfortunately, that happens in hockey. But what happened today is completely beyond the scope of not only the rules of the game but also the norms of human behavior.”
Krechin went on to confirm that the team was seeking criminal charges.
“This is outrageous, so we appealed to all authorities, including the police of Kazakhstan, to investigate the incident and give it a legal assessment, as in a number of countries such actions are considered outside of sport and civil laws and often lead the liability up to the criminal.”
Ryspayev is no stranger to discipline for conduct in the KHL. He has 194 penalty minutes in just 23 career games and has been suspended by the league on multiple occasions, including an incident last season after which the league “expressed extreme concern.”
While a player’s past behavior on the ice is often used to help determine supplemental discipline by leagues like the NHL for a current offense, police authorities and prosecutors must look at an incident separate and apart from all others to determine whether or not formal criminal charges will be filed.
In the NHL, there have been instances in the past where conduct during a game has risen to the level of criminal charges being pursued off the ice. Marty McSorley’s stick swinging incident on Donald Brashear in 2000 provides an example, but these situations are very rare.
Authorities in Kazakhstan are reportedly still investigating Monday’s incident. Whether or not Ryspayev faces formal charges, his conduct gives the game of hockey, at least in Kazakhstan, another opportunity to see at what point on-ice actions leave the sports world and enter the criminal realm.
Steven is a lawyer and writer with a passion for the game of hockey. He’s the Lead Writer covering the Tampa Bay Lightning with THW. He’s also been press credentialed through the Lightning since 2016. His work has been published at The Fourth Period, LightningInsider.com, Bolt Prospects, The Sports Daily Network, U.S. College Hockey Online and College Hockey News. He’s had radio appearances on TSN 690 in Montreal, Lightning Power Play Live and multiple podcasts to give insight and analysis on the team. He can be reached on Twitter @StevenDiOssi and by email at email@example.com.