Monday, April 28, 2014

Brendan Leipsic Suspended Again; Another Example of the Give and Take of an Agitator

Brendan Leipsic was suspended by the WHL for Game one of the WHL Final against the Edmonton Oil Kings. The reason for the suspension was due to a spear to the midsection he delivered to fellow agitator Tyrell Goubourne in the closing minutes of the closing game of the series against the Kelowna Rockets. The confrontation with Goublourne was well behind the play and puts his team without his services for the third time this season. This time in a pivotal playoff game.

First, he was suspended back in September: 3 games for a hit he put on Tri Cites Taylor Vickerman. Then in December agaisnt Seattle, he flew halfway across the ice to lay waste with a head hit on rookie Keegan Kolesar. That warranted a 7 game suspension from the WHL. So, safe to say he was on the WHL's radar when they looked at the incident from last Friday.

There is no denying that Leipsic is a passionate player who plays on the edge of legality. Leipsic is an explosive player who seems to feed off a large amount of energy. This energy can help and hurt his team, but it is a price that, if asked, every Winterhawks fan would be willing to pay. Leipsic has incredible skills offensively and has stepped up his play in his own zone this year. What's improved the most this year though, has been Leipsic's play in the playoffs. In the previous two seasons Leipsic disappeared in the playoffs at times the previous two seasons. When he is engaged, he is easily one of the highest skilled players in the league. He also can get in the heads of the other team, making them commit stupid penalties. He did this in round two against Victoria Royal's Defensemen Keegan Kanzig and Jordan Fransoo, causing them to put the vaunted Hawk's powerplay on the ice and contributing to their team's demise.

However, Leipsic also has the tendency to let his emotions take over and take stupid penalties. All 3 of his suspensions are examples of this. He also does things that may not be all that illegal or injurious, but still get under the other team's and their fan's collective skin (water bottle incident anyone?).

With these actions, it should not be surprising that he gets the reactions he gets in opponents barns and across the internet. Having gone to my fair share of games in Kennewick, Seattle, Spokane and Everett, I'm pretty sure that most teams fans only knowledge of the Winterhawks is the 5'10" dynamo from Winnipeg. There is probably not an insult that I have not heard directed at Leipsic.

With this having been said though, I would guarantee that if by some weird circumstance the Nashville Predators kept Leipsic in the WHL for his 20 year old season (not going to happen) and the Winterhawks decided to trade him (even more insane), Portland would find 21 suitors across the WHL attempting to outbid each other for his services.

This is the role of the agitator across all of the sport of hockey. They come in all sorts of skill sets, but one thing is for sure, they are here to stay. The easiest definition of an agitator is a guy you hate with the sort of vitriol, you didn't know you had, right up until he gets acquired by your team and his characteristics are now helping your beloved team win games. Then you are defending the actions he took and spouting out conspiracy theories.

Matt Cooke
Every successful NHL and WHL team has examples of these players in their locker room. For all the condemning of Leipsic's actions last Friday, that Rocket's fans displayed, there should come the realization that their team contains players that do very similar things that Leipsic likes to do. Tyson Baillie's "cup check" of Dominic Turgeon in Game three is but one example. If you are out there thinking that your favorite team does not contain an agitator type, you have got to open your eyes. Tyrell Goulbourne, himself, the victim of Leipsic's illegal play, committed 16 penalty minutes in the 5 game series vs. Portland, including some "unsportmanlike conduct" penalties. In an example of agitator related hypocrisy: Eugene Melnyk the owner of the NHL's Ottawa Senators tried to get the NHL to order a forensic investigation after (at the time) Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke's ice skate sliced the achilles tendon of star Defenseman Eric Karlson. The NHL deemed it inadvertent, much to Melnyk's chagrin. Melnyk was quoted as saying that there is no place in the NHL for guys like Matt Cooke. It should be noted that Melnyk also employs agitators like Chris Neil, who have also been suspended multipe times and commit liberties consistently.

A great example of the way a team's fans can turn or embrace an agitator, took place over the weekend in Philadelphia. Carcillo was emblematic of the way the Flyers play hockey over his three seasons in Philly. He was a fan favorite for the passionate and boundary pushing way he played hockey. It also helped that he contributed at important times; most notably with an over time winner in game 3 of their 2010 playoff series against New Jersey. Carcillo now plays for the New York Rangers, who are taking on the Flyers in the first round this year. Carcillo scored a huge goal in the Ranger's pivotal game three win in Philadelphia. Carcillo then appeared to taunt the Wahcovia Center crowd, receiving a few flipped birds from the fans. This was a player that was beloved when he played for the orange and black, but now that he changed sweaters, he turned into the most hated player on the ice.

Carcillo-After his Goal
The great agitators revel in their role on the ice and even sometimes off of it. Sean Avery, while a member of the Rangers, got a rule named after him (below), but is possibly more (in)famous for his comments directed at his former girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert and her beaux: Toronto's Dion Phaneuf.

Leipsic's skills both as a scorer and as an agitator are un-questioned. In fact, his abilities in the latter, may end up getting him to the NHL, just as much as his incredible offensive skills. One thing is for sure though, he needs to learn when the proper time to instigate the other team is and when it will do nothing but hurt him and his team, as his actions last Friday have done. Learning this may take awhile, as people who compete in a passionate way have trouble turning it off, even to their own detriment. In the long run though, Leipsic's actions have made him a player that Winterhawks and WHL fans will always remember, even long after he has moved on, albeit in very different ways.

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