Simon strikes again
Former Ottawa 67 Chris Simon has a quiet manner off the ice, but the Islander’s on- ice record shows five previous suspensions as he awaits his punishment for Thursday’s incident against the Rangers.
Beneath the tattoos and the 6- 3, 220- pound frame, Chris Simon has always had a soft, quiet manner about him — off the ice.
On it, he is known for a hairtrigger temper when provoked.
Hockey fans saw Simon lose it on Thursday, when the New York Islanders tough guy swung his stick to the face of Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg.
Hollweg, a professional aggravator who served multiple suspensions while in the AHL two years ago, had slammed Simon into the boards late in the third period. No penalty was called on the hit. Simon rose to his feet, groggily, like a guy shaking off a sucker punch. As Hollweg approached, Simon cranked his stick into the Rangers player’s face, resulting in a cut that needed stitches. There was no serious injury.
Simon, 35, received a match penalty for deliberate attempt to injure, and the Rangers scored the winning goal during the resulting power play.
That was just the beginning of Simon’s troubles.
NHL vice- president Colin Campbell announced yesterday that Simon has been suspended indefinitely pending a hearing. Taken into account will be five previous suspensions on Simon’s record, the most serious of which was a five- game penalty in 1994 for slashing Ottawa Senators winger Dennis Vial to the head.
Immediately, hockey observers compared Thursday’s stick- swinging incident to the infamous Marty McSorley slash to the temple of Donald Brashear on Feb. 21, 2000. McSorley, in the twilight of his career as an enforcer, was suspended for 23 games plus playoffs and didn’t play another game in the NHL.
Though Simon didn’t hunt down his prey as McSorley did, it’s expected Simon could be suspended for the balance of the regular season. The Islanders have 15 games remaining.
In a soft voice, Simon apologized to his teammates after the game, but not to Hollweg.
“ I feel really bad for letting the team down,” Simon said. “ I just don’t really want to say anything about the incident right now because I’m going to have a talk with the league first.”
Though Simon was drafted 25th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1990, only a dramatic personal reformation enabled him to fashion a 13- year career in the NHL. Big, strong, with a decent scoring touch for a fighter, Simon had major issues while in hockey’s minors. Throughout his teen years, he fought an addiction to alcohol and an aversion to authority figures. When he was with the Ottawa 67’ s in the fall of 1991, Simon was sent home from a practice when he arrived smelling of liquor.
Brian Kilrea, the 67’ s head coach and general manager, answered Simon’s trade demands by dealing him to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds on Oct. 31, 1991. At the time of the deal, Simon was serving out an eightgame suspension for a face slash remarkably similar to Thursday’s on Long Island.
Simon whacked Niagara Falls defenceman Dave Babcock in the face, breaking seven teeth and causing a 21- stitch cut. While sitting out the ruling, Simon moped. And drank. By that point, Kilrea had grown sour on Simon’s promise, despite a 36- goal season in 198990 as a 17- year- old.
“ Simon is one of the most dynamic left- wingers in the OHL,” Kilrea said at the time. “ He’s an unbelievable talent. He has one of the best shots I have ever seen in this league. I just thought he could have worked harder.”
Moving to the Soo was a godsend. Simon, who was born in nearby Wawa, Ont., is the son of an Ojibwa father and white mother. With the Greyhounds, Simon was coached by the personable Ted Nolan, an Ojibwa native who helped Simon regain his motivation and battle his alcohol problem.
Today, Simon counsels young natives on the dangers of alcohol. In 1992, Simon helped Nolan’s Greyhounds reach the Memorial Cup final, a championship the Soo would win a year later without Simon, who had turned professional.
Simon didn’t play a single game for the NHL team that drafted him. The Flyers traded Simon to the Quebec Nordiques as part of the blockbuster Eric Lindros deal.
When the Nordiques moved to Colorado to become the Avalanche, Simon was part of their Stanley- Cup winning team of 1995- 96. He also reached the Cup finals with Washington in 1998 and Calgary in 2004.
Last summer, when he discovered that Nolan would return to the NHL as the Islanders’ head coach, Simon leapt at the chance to sign a free- agent contract with New York. Until the attack on Hollweg, he’d been having a decent season with nine goals, 26 points, a plus- minus of 16 and just 63 penalty minutes.
Five of Simon’s goals came in the last eight games, while his team was making a successful stretch run, buoyed by the trade deadline addition of Ryan Smyth from Edmonton.
The Simon stick- swinging incident comes at a time when the NHL is under pressure to clean up its game. There have been several hits to the head recently, along with sticks to the face and a goalie fight, all of which is grabbing negative attention in the United States — where the game remains a tough sell.
Just when hardcore Canadian fans are glued to their television sets for the playoff races, U. S. hockey tourists are mocking a game they liken to roller derby on ice. One e- mailer to the syndicated Jim Rome Show suggested that Simon would be a great addition to the Kansas City Royals baseball team — for his ability to swing lumber.
Kilrea says Simon acted like a “ wounded bear,” lashing out at the nearest person after being hit, and hurt. And Kilrea believes Simon pulled his swing slightly at the last second.
“ Chris Simon is so strong, if he’d swung it like a baseball bat, we’d be talking about a funeral right now,” Kilrea said, “ not a suspension.”