May 26, 2011, 2:41 PM EST
As endearing as it was to see the Tampa Bay Lightning win Game 6 with such a spirited effort, a lot of the good feelings were ruined by a dispiriting showing by fans. Lightning fans made a misguided show of affection by showering the St. Pete Times Forum ice with noise-making devices that were called “rally drums” but looked like some evil manipulation of tennis rackets. (Hopefully the Lightning brass will do away with that promotion if the Lightning make it to the Stanley Cup finals or the franchise could suffer further embarrassment.)
Apparently that already-ugly situation was even worse than it looked, at least if one report is correct. Mike Corcoran of Lightning Insider posted two videos that seemingly capture* Nathan Horton throwing a water bottle at Tampa Bay fans.
It’s unclear what the NHL would do if Horton did, indeed, throw a bottle at fans. While these situations are far from equal, it brings to mind a few situations in the past.
- Rick Rypien received a six-game suspension for essentially grabbing a Minnesota Wild fan. Obviously, that offense was more serious than Horton’s alleged water bottle toss.
- John Tortorella earned a one-game suspension for Game 6 of the New York Rangers’ 2009 series against the Washington Capitals for squirting a water bottle and throwing it at a Caps fan. Here is what Colin Campbell said about the incident at the time.
“While it is a difficult decision to suspend a coach at this point in a playoff series, it has been made clear to all of our players, coaches and other bench personnel that the National Hockey League cannot — and will not — tolerate any physical contact with fans,” league disciplinarian Colin Campbell said in a statement last night. “We do not take this action lightly.”
That stance could be referenced liberally if the Horton footage is given legitimate credence.
- Of course, there’s also that ridiculous moment when Tie Domi sprayed down and fought with a Philadelphia Flyers fan who invaded the penalty box. One can only imagine the kind of chaos that incident would have generated on social media networks if that happened today, but Domi only received a $1,000 fine while that fan reportedly needed stitches in 2001.
It seems like Horton’s situation is most similar to what happened with Tortorella, but there are some differences. Tortorella is a coach, so one could argue that he is held to a (slightly?) higher standard than a player. The footage of Torts having a problem with the fan was far more official than the patchwork video evidence as well. There also might be more concern about suspending a player versus suspending a coach, especially since that suspension would come during a game that would decide which team represents the East in the Stanley Cup finals instead of a first round match.
There’s no guarantee that the league will need to address this situation at all since the evidence might be deemed shaky, but we’ll let you know if something happens. It’s an ugly situation for both sides: players must keep their cool and fans need to at least have a modicum of respect for the opposing team.
If there’s one silver lining to this story, it’s the possible end of those dopey rally drums (or whatever they are called) in Tampa Bay. If this somehow leads to the demise of Thunderstix too, then Horton’s work might transition from an embarrassment to indirect public service.
* – I use the phrase “seemingly capture” because it’s difficult to make a lot of the action out in the grainy video.
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