The NHL has suspended Vancouver Canuck forward Rick Rypen for 6 games after he assaulted Wild fan, James Engquist.
Six games misses the mark. You don't assault a fan. Period. With or without a shoe, Mike Millbury.
The NHL should have suspended Rypien for 25 games - at minimum. Fundamentally, by not imposing a more serious sanction on Rypien, there is a concern that the NHL is not leading by example, and has failed to declare unequivocally that assault, on a fan or otherwise, is wrong. We need to hold ourselves to a high standard, and cases like this one provide a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the standards we aspire to attain.
Rypien Goes Wild
Engquist and his brother Peter were at the game courtesy of a gift from their father. They found themselves sitting directly behind the Vancouver Canucks' bench and along the runway leading to the locker room.
Rypien and Minnesota’s Brad Staubitz, who fought in the opening period, were about to square off in the second period before being separated by the linesmen in front of the Wild bench.
As Rypien, who was assessed a double minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct, was pulled by linesman Don Henderson toward the Vancouver bench, he appeared to push the official. On his way down the tunnel to the dressing room, Rypien grabbed and pushed Engquist, who was sitting by the railing. Rypien was pulled off Engquist by a Canucks trainer and coach Alain Vigneault.
NHL’s Reaction & Understanding Assault & Battery
After the NHL suspended Rypien for 6 games, Comminssioner Gary Bettman issued an apology and invited the aggrieved Engquist out for dinner and a game.
What's for dessert you ask? Probably a full release.
Why? Because this case isn’t done just yet. Yes, the NHL has suspended Rypien. However, the suspension does not preclude Engquist from commencing a civil action against Rypien, the Canucks and NHL alleging assault and battery.
How does assault and battery work? Here's the legal breakdown:
Assault and battery are typically components of a single offense. In civil context, "assault" and "battery" are separate, with an assault being an act which creates fear of an imminent harm, and battery being the unlawful touching.
So if there is a reasonable belief you are going to be harmed, that's assault. If contact is made, we have battery. That's why they are generally grouped together when a person has been physically harmed.
It's a bit counterintuitive because we understand "assault" to mean actual contact. In the civil context, though, it doesn't mean that. However, on the criminal side, assault actually means contact. Remember, the civil and criminal contexts are two separate streams (by way of example, O.J. beat the criminal charges but lost the civil case).
In this case, the video evidence pretty conclusively supports that assault and battery did occur.
Does Rypien have a defence? In cases of assault and battery, there is the defence of provocation. That’s where the conduct of the plaintiff must have been such as to cause the defendant to lose his power of self-control.
It’s generally a pretty tough defence to establish, as courts don’t want to be seen as excusing battery. In this case, Rypien doesn’t have much of a chance of successfully relying on provocation – no matter what Engquist said (it’s rumoured he said “way to be professional”). Fans heckle and taunt players. That’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it will always be.
If a player could rely on provocation in scenarios such as this one, next thing you’ll see are players, led by General Artest, charging into the stands on a regular basis laying a beating on fans who said things that were not particularly polite or kind.
As for money, if Engquist can't show injury, pain and suffering, etc., he may still be entitled to a modest sum of money (this is referred to as "nominal damages").
One more thing. Engquist seems to be getting some heat for wanting to explore his legal options. He was assaulted. His reaction is not unreasonable. For me at least, I know I wouldn’t be too pleased if a player went after me or my girlfriend at a game (not in that order).
As for what will happen next, the parties may look to settle the matter and let this case go quietly into the night.