Update: London Mayor Joe Fontana issued a statement about the banana-throwing episode: "I am sending an apology to Wayne Simmonds and the Philadelphia Flyers organization regarding the incident at last night's exhibition game. It was a stupid and mindless act by a single individual, however, it reflects badly on our entire community."
By John Matisz
Hockey fans settled in for a great game Thursday night (Sept. 22) as the National Hockey League made its annual trek to London’s John Labatt Centre for a pre-season match between the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings. For one fan, however, a little mayhem – possibly racially motivated – was the goal for the evening.
While barreling down on Detroit goaltender Jordan Pearce during the first round of a marathon shootout, a banana was thrown in the path of Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, who happens to be black. The Scarborough native still managed to pot the goal, adding to his game-tying tally with less than a minute remaining in the third period.
An announcement was made over the public announcement system reminding fans to refrain from throwing objects on the ice.
“Not much (I can say about that), it’s a bad fan, I guess," said Flyer forward Sean Couturier of the banana-thrower after the game. "I mean, we got the goal so that’s what’s important.”
Putting this controversy aside, the near-capacity crowd was treated to six regulation goals on 64 shots and a thrilling overtime period. Ian White, who scored in early in the third period to put the Wings up by a pair, was the 16th and final shooter of the lengthy shootout.
A 10-game suspension — five in the pre-season, five in the regular season — was handed to Philadelphia enforcer Jody Shelley by NHL vice-president hockey and business development Brendan Shanahan midway through the contest. The punishment was a reaction to Shelley's flagrant check-from-behind on Darryl Boyce of the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night (Sept. 21).
Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette was notified of his player's suspension in a post-game media scrum.
“That hurts because Jody is a team guy and a valuable part of our group," he said. "In saying that, the league did what they said they were going to do. They sent out the video, we watched it on the first day and it’s unfortunate.”
Asked whether the organization was going to welcome Shelley back with open arms, the veteran bench boss assured the Flyers plan to stay loyal to the NHL heavyweight who played 58 games for the Broad Street Bullies in 2010-11 after coming over from the New York Rangers organization.
“He’s just going to have to keep working hard in practice and when he gets back here he’ll be pretty excited to go," Laviolette said. "We’ll deal with it.”
With not only Shelley but offensive spark plugs Brayden Schenn, Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr all taking a night off as healthy scratches, the Flyers relied on contributions from different sources in the exhibition tilt. Along with Simmonds' tally to tie the contest, 2010-11 playoff star James van Riemsdyk netted a pair for the Flyers.
More importantly for Laviolette and company was the performance of their young guns. Eighth overall choice in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft Sean Couturier, in particular, was leaned on in key situations Thursday night.
“I think you have to (use your young guys) in training camp, especially early on like this," explained Philadelphia's head coach. "We really have to use these four games to evaluate these young players, give them a lot of ice time, leave them out in situations, leave them out on penalty kills and put them in shootouts to see how they respond."
Couturier was the only non-regular to see action in the prolonged shootout.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen," he told London Community News about his whereabouts once the 2011-12 season is in full swing, "but they’re giving me some opportunities and they’re testing me, I guess.”
The 18-year-old son of former NHLer Sylvain Couturier said he is receiving some expert advice along the way.
“Max Talbot has been good with me," Sean said of the Stanley Cup champion. "He (speaks) French so he’s been talking a lot to me. It’s great to have the veterans help you, it makes the adaptation that much easier.”
The two teams will travel west to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit to complete their two games in two nights today (Sept. 23) at 7:30 p.m.