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Colin Campbell gets tough with enforcers.
Tues. Nov. 24, 1998. By Damien Cox, Toronto Star.

UNLIKE his predecessor and those who regularly champion the inclusion of ugly violence in hockey, Colin Campbell understands true courage in the game.

After all, Campbell played 11 NHL seasons as an undersized, 5-foot-9 rearguard, skating in 681 games and another 78 in the World Hockey Association.

See, that's a guy who played the game.

He knows that courage is not sneaking up from behind an unsuspecting opponent and driving your fist into the back of his head.

Quite accordingly, then, Campbell made his most dramatic statement yet as the NHL's new sheriff by telling Los Angeles Kings goon Matt Johnson to go have a seat for 12 games.

This, folks, is a real deterrent.

Interestly, just last week Campbell seemed to be not getting the message that his predecessor, Brian Burke, also never received, that NHLers simply do not view three- or four-game suspensions seriously.

Campbell gave Washington Capitals forward Richard Zednik just four puny games for skating up behind Maple Leaf defenceman Daniil Markov, deliberately raising his stick to eye level and then raking the front of Markov's face, narrowly missing his eye.

When Zednik was banned for just four matches, it seemed we were headed down the same ineffective road that Burke had stubbornly travelled. The Johnson suspension, however, clearly raises the stakes.

Johnson, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound winger who has compiled five goals and 559 penalty minutes in 133 career games, was a frustrated enforcer last Wednesday at the Great Western Forum.

He was ticked at New York Ranger defenceman Jeff Beukeboom for allegedly tripping him earlier in the game. He was undoubtedly frustrated that the struggling Kings were being whipped again and were trailing the Rangers by four goals in the third period.

So did he drill Beukeboom into the boards with a ferocious bodycheck? No. He skated up from behind and played pattycake on Beukeboom's cranium.

``What I did was probably wrong . . . but I felt like I had to do something,'' he said before meeting with Campbell in New York yesterday morning. In the end, I have to protect my players.''

Who ever gave him that right? That, folks, is a refereeing issue and the responsibility of league officials like Campbell. And yesterday Campbell demonstrated forcefully that he will protect players.

It was truly sad to hear Paul Kariya earlier this season applaud the acquisition by his Mighty Ducks of goons Jim McKenzie and Stu Grimson. Kariya essentially said that since the league had proved it would not mete out justice for outlaw players, it was up to players to do it themselves.

But if Gary Suter had been suspended by Burke for, say, 25 games last season for delivering a fearsome cross-check to Kariya's forehead, Kariya would undoubtedly have not felt compelled to urge his employers to hire some added protection.

That vigilante mentality is how this ball got rolling in the first place.

The Johnson suspension sends a message contrary to the traditional one that tells players like Johnson - and Jeff Kugel - that since they can do little else but drop their gloves every night, they can also be judge and jury and deliver extraordinary justice at their discretion.

Personally, I would have given Johnson the 12 games and Zednik a 15-game unpaid holiday. Zednik's foul was even more cowardly that Johnson's, but at least Zednik's a real player.

The overriding point here, however, is that Campbell is reading and reacting to league events. He saw players weren't cutting out the garbage after a series of modest suspensions.

So he delivered a haymaker.