Rick Rypien Goes Wild in Minnesota: What’s the Right Punishment?

There are a slew of unwritten rules that govern the action in various sports. Whether it’s not touching the Stanley Cup unless you have won it in hockey, or not talking to a pitcher who is in the process of pitching a perfect game in baseball, there are certain codes of conduct that guys adhere to when they are in the arena of competition.

One rule that is common for all sports is that players do not lash out at fans. Scores of athletes over the years have felt the stinging rebuke from fans and officials alike after they criticize, spit at, or even physically confront hecklers and various other doofuses that populate arenas and stadiums.

Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien joined that special group on Tuesday night, when he went after a fan after being assessed a 10 minute major penalty in a game against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Video evidence clearly shows that Rypien was being heckled by a fan, who was mock applauding him as he walked toward the dressing room, and he lunged into the stands and started pulling the fan down towards him. The altercation ended quickly, however, as the fan was pulled back into the stands and Rypien was escorted down the tunnel.

Speaking after the game, Manny Malhotra had to this to say about the skirmish:

“There’s boundaries that should never be crossed. We’re in our area of work,” he said. “We’re all for the hooting and hollering and supporting your team and saying whatever is tasteful. But as soon as you cross that line and want to become physical with a player then we have to make sure we take care of ourselves.”

Thankfully the fan was not injured in the assault (and that’s exactly what this was), and Rypien is going to be hearing from Colin Campbell really soon, considering that the Canucks are taking the ice again tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.

Before we get to the punishment portion of the program, there are a few factors that need to be taken into account.

Rick Rypien (Wikimedia Commons)

Factor #1: The Fan Involved Did Not Go After Rypien in Any Physical Fashion

The fan involved was mock applauding Rypien, and while he may have said something off-color, he did not physically go after Rypien like Malhotra seems to be insinuating. Multiple reports have surfaced that the fan was removed from the section near the Canucks’ bench, but was not removed from the building itself, leading the observer to believe that security officials did not hold the fan involved responsible in the incident.

Factor #2: The Fan Involved Was Egging on a Player Who Had Just Been in a Heated Situation on the Ice

Rypien was clearly not in his right mind when he was headed off the ice, and a fan mocking him in a disrespectful way could certainly have set him off. We’ve all had moments in life where we are mad at something else, and a trigger happens that sets us off on a third party. This doesn’t justify his actions by any stretch, but it is something to consider.

Factor #3: No Matter the Circumstances, Leagues Are Not Tolerant of Fan-Player Altercations

Back in the 1970’s, a full scale brawl erupted at Madison Square Garden when a Bruins player was struck with a rolled up program, and another player had a stick stolen. In the ensuing fracas, several Bruins players went into the stands and fought with fans, and three of the players involved were suspended, but none for more than eight games.

In 2005, Ron Artest went into the stands at The Palace at Auburn Hills after a fan hit him with a cup of beer as he lay on top of the scorer’s table. The full scale brawl that ensued resulted in Artest being suspended for the remainder of the season and several other players receiving lengthy suspensions as well.

These two examples show where the various sports leagues stand on altercations nowadays. In an era where nearly every game is televised, and an economic climate that is causing fans to be increasingly tight with their wallets and teams to be uber-cautious about alienating them, leagues are not going to tolerate any player that hurts their image, and athlete-on-fan violence, regardless of cause, will be looked at with intense scrutiny.

With those three factors in mind, Rypien should receive a suspension of no less than 10 games for his conduct. It doesn’t matter what the fan said to Rick; he was completely wrong to have lunged after the guy. It was an attack that was fueled by residual rage from an on-ice incident, but that is no excuse to physically go after someone.

It may seem hackneyed to say, but if Joe Schmo on the street went after someone in a physical manner for something that was said, no matter how vile, the attacker would be charged with assault and battery.

While Malhotra’s defense of Rypien was likely just an example of teammates looking out for each other, he was dead wrong in insinuating in any way that Rick was at all justified in what he did. His actions were completely out of line, and the league needs to punish him severely for his horrific lack of judgment and common sense.

Any suspension that is not in the double digits in terms of games banned would be way too lenient in this situation. The league needs to send forth a clear message to both players and fans alike that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.

Knowing the league and the “Wheel of Justice”, however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rypien walk away with a significantly lower suspension than the one advocated here. If the league is serious about changing its image and making sports fans take the NHL seriously, then Rypien needs to have the book thrown at him. If Nick Boynton and James Wisniewski can be suspended for gestures, then attacking a fan certainly warrants a way more serious punishment.

In an era where every suspension is debated ad nauseum, this incident is a rare one where most of the hockey world can agree. Let’s hope that Colin Campbell’s Wheel of Justice lands on the right space.

13 thoughts on “Rick Rypien Goes Wild in Minnesota: What’s the Right Punishment?”

  1. Excellent article! I’m of two minds about this:

    First, foremost and the bottom line: Rypien was way, way out of line and yes, he does need the book thrown at him for goling all Tie Domi on that fan. It was extremely unprofessional.

    As for the fan, kid of not, he looks like he’s old enough to employ common sense. Being sarcastic towards a professional hockey player who has just lost his cool on the ice? Not smart. Yeah, I know its the culture and Rypien should know better and people run with the bulls in Spain and bungee from platforms at county fairs set up by the children of first cousins and date Lindsay Lohan and all that, but still… There is a degree of assumption of risk that you take on when you decide to do something stupid and catcalling an athlete on the way to the locker room after a fight qualifies as pretty stupid.

  2. I dunno, I’m just gonna throw this one out there: of all the players that have had bananas thrown at them, been called all kinds of names, and had slurs hurled at them, yet those players haven’t charged at fans. Hardly anything could beat those awful experiences that other players have experienced and thus, makes it unacceptable to attack a fan for whatever reason…. Just a thought that many people don’t think about because it goes so unnoticed a lot of times.

    Because this isn’t common, I’m not going to act too reactionary like most folks and call for super buffers and stuff, but I wouldn’t be too opposed to maybe a small step toward avoiding this kind of thing again. Just not asking for a huge wall or anything.

  3. Jonathan Gallivan, I cant argue with that. Keeping a buffer between fans and players maybe a prudent idea. And you are sooooo right. Times have definitely changed. Unfortunately IMO for the worse in most cases. We’ll Just have to make due. Its been a pleasure Johnathan.

  4. @SCLI … I agree, I’ve been known to yell all sorts of things to players watching games on my TV, and being a fan gives me the right to do so!

    But, all that I’m saying is that maybe those one or two seats, that have such easy access to the visiting bench, needs a bit more separation … or at least some consideration for more separation. Otherwise, it just seems to beg more incidents like this.

    My former high school has metal detectors now … times change!

  5. Jonathan Gallivan, maybe your rite and the kid hurled some remarks. It’s irrelevant. Thats what fan do, yell, scream, clap. What do players expect going on the road? Teams encourage it. They expect the fans to make some noise, they play the organ music and tell them to stomp their feet, they ask for noise from the giant TV’s and loud speakers. Teams brag that the fans make it difficult for opponents to play in their building. Whether its hockey football basketball or baseball every arena wants the fans involved in some way. The kid did nothing that any other fan wouldnt do. He didnt reach for Rypien, he didnt swing or lean over to him. He didnt get up in his face. He Clapped and maybe hurled a remark or two. If fans clapping and yelling at a sports event feel threatened by players because they are doing whats expected from then……. WOW !!! We’re in big trouble. I’m sure players hear much worse on the ice from guys like Sean Avery . Short of being physically attacked, there is no excuse for going after a fan.

  6. I hear you, Jon. For the protection of both players and fans, there probably should be a bit more separation (or some glass). However, when I saw the footage, my instincts told me that all the kid was doing was clapping. Maybe he was saying something snarky. But from his posture, I found it less likely that he was saying anything too insulting, because the body language just didn’t match. His brother called KFAN this morning and said that all he was saying was “Way to be a professional”. Rypien simply lost it. Granted, it happens to everyone from time to time (losing one’s temper to the point of doing something irrational). However, part of being a professional athlete representing a brand (in this case, the NHL brand) is being able to resist hurting that brand in this manner. Did the kid say more than that? Perhaps. In any case, it should be interesting to see what happens after Friday’s hearing. My prediction is 8-10 games.

    Link: http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/Brother-of-Rypien-fan-All-he-said-was-Way-to?urn=nhl-278610

  7. Hey guys … I don’t condone Rypien’s actions in the least. In fact, I expect he’ll get 10 games in the least … maybe even 15, and I’d be happy with that. All I am saying is that I’ve never seen an arena where a visitors’ bench and home fans had such easy access to one another. Maybe I just don’t pay that much attention … but, if there was a piece of plexiglass, or even some steel bars, where the seat is and the hallway to the bench … then I doubt Rypien would have charged the guy.

    SCLI … again, not condoning Rypien’s actions, but I’m sure the “kid” was doing more than just clapping. :)

  8. Jonathan, Jeff Marek addressed the possibility of the team raising the “tarp” used to protect players between periods when Rypien was being escorted off the ice. While a barrier between players and fans certainly would have prevented this incident, using that as a reason to justify Rypien’s actions in any way is simply wrong in my opinion. Rick needs to be able to conduct himself in a professional manner, and if he can’t do that, he has no place in this league.

    David and SCLI, a punishment of between 10-12 games would probably be sufficient in this case. No, the fact that he didn’t do any major physical harm to the kid shouldn’t be something that lets him get off the hook completely, but the immaturity and stupidity of the action warrant losing a good chunk of games, not nearly a quarter season’s worth.

  9. David Henkemeyer beautifully stated. Rypien should receive No less than 15 and no more than 20. His skin must be awful thin to let a kid clapping his hands get under it. I really believe that Rypien realized it was a kid he was Assaulting and thats why he backed off. IMO. Had it been an adult. This situation would have been far worse.

  10. Jonathan, almost all arena have that same “design flaw”. The bottom line is this: no player is every justified to go after a fan for something like this.

    Even though no physical harm was done to the fan (as far as we know), Rypien should be made an example of by the league.

    I agree 100% with, Jim.

  11. Unacceptable behaviour? Yes. But, why does the fan have such easy access to the visiting players’ bench? Kind of a design flaw of that arena, no?

    • Jonathan – what do you expect, a “sensitivity zone” where the away players are shielded from the evil fans? Wouldn’t want any heckling or jeering – that might just hurt some feelings! Whatever! :) Part of the FUN of going to a game is heckling the opposing team. Its part of the business of professional sports, and one of the reasons why fans fork out so much money to go to the games.

      Rypien deserves a harsh punishment in this case, no doubt about it. The fan was doing what fans all across the country, in all sports, do best, and not only that, he did it fairly respectably: didn’t throw anything, didn’t get in his face, didn’t spit. Who knows, maybe he flung a few obscenities, but even if he did, Rypien was 100% at fault here. Good article, Jim!

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