When He Is Bad...
... Islanders left wing Chris Simon is horrid: a stick-swinging recidivist who drew a 25-game ban for slashing an opponent's face. So why do so many players -- and his beloved coach -- stand by him?
Posted: Wednesday October 24, 2007 11:43AM; Updated: Wednesday October 24, 2007 11:52AM
Darryl Bootland, a nondescript New York Islanders winger, and Riley Cote, a fourth liner for the Philadelphia Flyers, were standing beside each other at the face-off circle in the second period on the night of Oct. 13, jostling with their sticks and engaging in repartee that was more Oscar De La Hoya than Oscar Wilde.
"Why d'ya look so angry all the time?" Bootland demanded.
"'Cause that's my job," Cote replied.
When Cote lifted Bootland's stick and it caught its owner in the face, the contretemps became Chris Simon's job.
Seven months ago Simon, the Islanders enforcer, had delivered a vicious two-handed chop to the face of Ryan Hollweg, a pot-stirring New York Rangers forward. That act earned Simon a 25-game suspension, then the longest in NHL history, and evoked the usual somber comments from hockey's chattering class about how gratuitous violence has no place in the game. But for something with no place in hockey, it certainly seems to weasel its way in a lot. One reason Cote was in the lineup against New York is that the other Flyers forward whose job it is to look angry all the time, Jesse Boulerice (since waived), was starting his own 25-game suspension for a two-hander to the face of Vancouver's Ryan Kesler.
Now Simon, sprung from his personal purgatory, switched sides ... or at least moved from the right to the left side of the circle so he could line up next to Cote. "Simon looks at me, and he's like, 'What's up?' " Cote said. "And I said, 'Are we going to do this?' And he's like, 'Yup.' That's kinda [how] it happens."
The fight, the 98th of Simon's regular-season career according to hockeyfights.com, was nothing memorable: a flurry of lefts from Simon, some ripostes by Cote, two big men losing their balance and landing on the ice. During his first game back Simon would spend only 79 more seconds on the ice than he would in the penalty box. "Si didn't take a liking to that high stick," Bootland said. "That's Si, sticking up for me again. He's been good to me, that's for sure."
The two opposing values -- good and bad, good and evil -- have waged a terrible battle on earth for thousands of years.... Up to now there has been no greater event than... this deadly contradiction.
If the terrible battle pits good versus evil, the three-round rematch staged by Simon and Hollweg last month made for an intriguing undercard. Simon, though still under suspension, was allowed to play exhibition games -- another deadly contradiction -- and so found himself facing the Rangers and Hollweg on Sept. 24. (Asked if dressing Simon for the game might have been provocative, Islanders coach Ted Nolan, who was born in 1958 -- and not, despite his wide-eyed response, yesterday -- said, "I played him to get him into... better condition.") The two players clashed along the boards throughout the first period, drawing roughing penalties. Later a high stick from Hollweg to Simon's right eye led to a quick exchange of stick jabs, then to fisticuffs when Rangers heavyweight Colton Orr stepped in to tangle with Simon. The third confrontation between Simon and Hollweg, after Hollweg hit an Islanders defenseman and Simon charged in from behind, devolved into a six-on-six brawl. Two weeks later, on the eve of the Islanders' season opener in Buffalo, purplish remnants of the high stick still rimmed the bottom of Simon's deep-set eye.