By: JOHN SULLIVAN
WHILE A FIGHT between a Buffalo News hockey writer and a star player for the Buffalo Sabres may not have cost the team a playoff series, the incident did not sit well with some of the newspaper’s readers.
Dominik “The Dominator” Hasek, the injured all-star goalie with the Sabres, was involved in an altercation with Buffalo News hockey columnist Jim Kelley on April 26, which resulted in Hasek being suspended by the National Hockey League for the first three games of the semifinal conference playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers, and fined $10,000.
Buffalo eventually lost in five games, and although Hasek was reinstated after the third game of the series, he did not play in the next two games because he was not physically ready.
The two-time Vezina Trophy winner (awarded to the NHL’s best goalie) and a strong candidate for the 1997 MVP award, confronted Kelley, who had written a column earlier that week criticizing Hasek’s ability to play under pressure and questioning whether his current medical condition was serious enough to keep him out of action.
Hasek verbally assaulted Kelley and proceeded to grab him by the shirt, after which several onlookers stepped in to break up the fight.
The incident took place outside the Sabres’ locker room after Game Five of the Eastern conference quarterfinal playoff series with the Ottawa Senators in Buffalo.
This was not a case of a new or renegade reporter trying to make a name for himself by writing a scathing column about a player in the spotlight. Kelley is president of the NHL Writers Association.
“Kelley did his job,” said Buffalo News executive sports editor Howard Smith.
“It [the column] was well-researched and not all that inflammatory.”
Smith felt that if Kelley was writing in New York or Philadelphia, there would be twice as many columns putting Hasek under the microscope.
“Other media areas are also 100% supportive of Jim,” said Smith. “It would be hard to take a stand against him.”
However, avid Sabre fans were quick to blame Kelley for the team’s loss.
“That’s the most surprising thing about this,” said Smith. “The fans have said ‘we don’t care if it’s [Kelley’s column] true or not ? just don’t say it during the playoffs.’ “
In suspending Hasek, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, “Such contact between any National Hockey League personnel ? coaches, players, league officials or team executives ? and media personnel will not be tolerated. We want a clear message sent to the media who cover our games that they have a safe environment in which to work.”
Hasek was suspended pursuant to NHL By-Law 17.3, following a hearing conducted by Bettman and other league officials in New York.
Following his suspension, Hasek did apologize to Kelley, the Buffalo News, the NHL and to the fans of the Sabres for his actions.
Did the episode affect Kelley’s ability to do his job?
Not according to Smith, who said “the other players and the (Sabres’) coaching staff continued to speak to him” during the remainder of the playoff games.
Arthur Pincus, vice president/public relations for the NHL, said that in the four-plus years that he has been working for the commissioner’s office, this is the first time there has been a fight between a player and a reporter.
All-star player suspended after fight over the tone of a column
?(Dominik Hasek) [Photo]
?(Revelation Portion of NHL By-Law 17.3
“If, in the opinion of the (Commissioner), based upon such information and reports as he may deem sufficient, any act or conduct of any official of a Member Club or player or employees whether during or outside the playing season, has been dishonorable, prejudicial to or against the welfare of the League or the game of hockey, he may expel or suspend such person or impose on such person and/or Member Club a fine…) [Caption]
?( E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo.com.)
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher May 24, 1997)