Goonery: et tu, Ruutu?


At first glance, the bespectacled Jarkko Ruutu looks like a mild-mannered school teacher.


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BOSTON --At first glance, the bespectacled Jarkko Ruutu looks like a mild-mannered school teacher.

And Montreal Canadiens Saku Koivu, who has played alongside Ruutu on the Finnish national team, said yesterday that Ruutu is a "really, really nice guy off the ice.'

Be that as it may, Ruutu is the latest National Hockey League player to be caught up in the headhunting epidemic that is spreading through the league.

Colin Campbell, the NHL's vice-president in charge of slapping wrists, handed Ruutu a two-game suspension yesterday for delivering an elbow to the head of Canadiens' forward Maxim Lapierre during Montreal's 4-0 win over the Senators on Tuesday night.

The reaction to the Ruutu incident and Tom Kostopoulos's hit on Toronto's Mike Van Ryn on Saturday night illustrates a basic problem in the league's attempt to eliminate dangerous hits to the head.

The victimized team feels no punishment can be too severe, while the transgressors feel they are as innocent as O.J. Simpson.

After Kostopoulos was suspended three games for leaving Van Ryn on the ice with a concussion, broken teeth, a broken nose and a broken hand, he insisted that he was merely trying to finish his check.

And, in what has become a sad trend in these incidents, there was a strong suggestion that Van Ryn contributed to his injuries by turning toward the boards.

While Koivu described Ruutu, a former Vancouver Canuck, as a good guy, he also noted Ruutu's role is that of an agitator whose "emotions might get involved too much and things like what happened last night, happen. But that's the way he's always played and it's an effective style."

Ruutu insists there was nothing malicious behind his elbow to Lapierre head. In fact, after watching the hit, frame by frame, yesterday morning, he also believed his elbow didn't hit Lapierre.

"In some cases, it looks worse than it is," Ruutu said, following the Senators' practice.

"It wasn't a head hunt or anything else. Actually, I don't think I hit him with an elbow, either. I looked at the tape afterward and it was a little high, but it wasn't on purpose."

Ruutu and Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray both made a point of noting Ruutu has never been suspended before in his career.

"Obviously, it is what it is, and I have to live with it," Ruutu said. "Like I said, I had no intention to do it, but accidents will happen and I'll have to deal with the consequences."

"We're disappointed that it's two games, but obviously the NHL has set a very high standard for a hit like this, that I felt deflected off the shoulder to the head," Murray said.

"Especially for a player with no history of suspensions, no history of even being called in front of the league. But we do have to abide by what is called. And, obviously, going forward we know now that this is the standard for anybody that gets hit in the head area."

It's true that Ruutu has never been suspended, but he hasn't received any good-conduct medals, either. In each of his past four NHL seasons, he has accumulated more than 100 penalty minutes.

And when he went back to Finland during the lockout, he accumulated 215 penalty minutes in a 50-game season with Helsinki.

Ruutu, who waved to the crowd after he was tossed from the game for unsportsmanlike conduct in the third period, will miss back-to-back games against the Islanders. He will be back in the lineup next Thursday when the Canadiens are in Ottawa.

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