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NHL pugilists support Kugel ban
Thursday, November 5, 1998
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
Everybody has seen it by now. The punch, the dance, the chase and the hysteria.
"Every time I turn on the television it's there," Colorado winger Warren Rychel said. "On every station, every minute."
He was referring to the insane uppercut and skate that ended Jeff Kugel's OHL hockey career.
Kugel has been banned from the league for life after leaving the Windsor bench during an Oct. 25 game and sucker-punching Owen Sound's Juri Golicic. Kugel then chased Owen Sound's Chris Minard and gestured wildly before being escorted away.
"Somewhere," said Tie Domi, professional hockey fighter, "he lost it. There are certain boundaries you cannot cross in hockey. There's a code of ethics. He crossed one of the boundaries.
"When I saw it for the first time, I was just shocked. I'm still kind of shocked by it. I've been fighting for a lot of years and I've never seen anything like this one.
"I don't think (OHL commissioner) Dave Branch had any choice. He had to suspend him for life. This was shown all over North America. What was he supposed to do?"
Warren Rychel. Tie Domi. Kris King. They understand Jeff Kugel and yet they don't, these tough men of professional hockey. They know their job. They know there are rules, official and unofficial. They know what they can and can't get away with.
"This is a hard job," Rychel said. "Maybe the hardest job in professional sports. Look at what we're doing from night to night. I don't think many people understand what we do, what we have to go through, and how we do it.
TAKING THE FALL
"Listen, I'm from Windsor. I've seen the kid. I think he's taking the fall for the team. Somebody wanted him to do something. They talked him up. You don't do that on your own. Doesn't the coach (Tony Curtale) have a certain responsibility here? Shouldn't he be keeping his players on the bench?
"I feel for the kid. I'm sure he's scared right now. The harsh reality is he's not playing hockey any more. But I agree with what I'm hearing from Windsor. There have been worse incidents. Nobody got hurt here. I don't care who you are, you don't want to ever see anybody hurt."
Kris King has been fighting for 12 professional seasons, and has scored more often with his fists than he will ever score when a game is on the line. But as he watched the Jeff Kugel assault from the vantage point of a television screen, he was sickened by what he saw.
"I don't know what sent him over the edge," King said, "but I can't recall ever seeing anybody like that before, that out of control. I can't tell you how many fights I've had, but I can't recall a single time where a guy went out and tried to seriously hurt somebody.
"As tough as these (NHL) guys are, once the fight is over, you go your separate ways and you serve your time.
"Honestly, I can't remember anybody trying to hurt me, but he (Kugel) was trying to hurt people. I don't know if he was having an out-of-body experience or what, but he looked like he was emotionally charged and out of control. It's sad, really, but I don't think Dave Branch had any choice. He did what he had to do.
"I'm sure (Kugel's) not that bad a kid, but you have to be responsible. You always have to be responsible, but the truth is he has to live with this for the rest of his life."
The hockey life, tough guy or not, is a privilege, Domi said.
"This life we have is a gift, a dream," the Leafs winger said. "You always have to keep that in mind. It's a privilege to play major junior hockey. It's a privilege to play in the National Hockey League. And with that privilege goes responsibility. Now, he has had that privilege taken away from him. You can't ever let that out of your mind. (The game) doesn't owe you anything. You owe it (to the game) to be responsible.
"I feel for the kid. When he woke up the next day, he was probably thinking 'What the heck did I do that for?' You know how you lie in bed and think those things? I'm sure he's doing that. I'm sure he's wondering why."
Dallas Eakins has spent his hockey life travelling from one city to another, one team to another, trying to find a hockey home. Toronto is his 18th stop in 11 professional seasons and there is little he hasn't seen in that time.
"It looked like the WWF to me," Eakins said of the Kugel attack. "Either he totally lost his mind or he was playing it up for the fans. Either way, it was crazy. The way he was throwing his hands around, the way he was acting. It wasn't the damage he did with the punch, but he made a spectacle of himself, a spectacle of the game."
"If he had just hit him," Rychel said, "if he hadn't turned it into a sideshow, we would be looking at this differently. The code is you don't embarrass anybody. In this case, he embarrassed himself, he embarrassed his team, his league, everybody."