The term “sucker-punch” has traditionally been used to describe a punch thrown at an unsuspecting player.
There is no hard criteria used to define it, but every NHL player knows what it is and most consider it among the most dangerous and reprehensible of acts.
Two players, Atlanta’s Ben Eager and Philadelphia’s Jody Shelley, have been suspended this season for what the league calls blows or punches to the head. A third, Boston’s Milan Lucic, was fined for responding to a late hit from Atlanta’s Freddy Meyer with a guarded and questionable punch. Some called it a sucker-punch.
NHL on TSN asked a sampling of players where they think sucker punches rank among hitting from behind, spearing and other such acts on the list of dastardly deeds.
“Pretty high. I think worst than all the above,” said one player. “In my mind, as bad as any because you are looking at the guy and giving him no respect,” said another. “A lot less spontaneous as far as I’m concerned. That to me is more calculated and can do just as much damage i.e. concussions,” said a third player.
There were one suspension for quote-unquote sucker-punches last year, one in 2008-09, none in 2007-08 and a recent high of four in 2006-07.
The granddaddies of sucker punches are Todd Bertuzzi’s on Steve Moore in 2004 – which has made the NHL squeamish about the issue ever since – and before that, Tie Domi’s on Ulf Samuelsson in 1995 at Maple Leaf Gardens. Domi earned an eight-game suspension for that punch, although to this day, Domi insists Samuelsson provoked him by repeatedly calling him “dummy.”
This seasons examples may not represent a trend, however, with a heightened sensitivity to head shots and a daily reminder of the issue of concussions in hockey, the “sucker-punch” has no place in the game