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NHL: Was Tim Gleason's Hit On Nikolai Kulemin a Sucker Punch or a Clean Hit?

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 08:  Nikolai Kulemin #41 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on December 8, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Penguins defeated the Maple Leafs 5-2.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Name NameCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2011

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes squared off Monday night in what was one of the more heated bouts of the season. Unfortunately, one of the most heated moments may have cost the Leafs one of their top players.

Not 30 seconds into the game, Dion Phaneuf set the tone by delivering an old "Dion Phaneuf" hit that should be featured in the TSN Top 10 for the next decade. That physicality helped produce a fight between Clarke MacArthur and Chad LaRose, with MacArthur getting the decisive win.

However, neither of those two moments took center stage in terms of physicality or importance.

The most important moment of the game for Leaf fans came at the end of the first period in a 10-man scrum. Tim Gleason and Nikolai Kulemin were pushing each other around, nothing unnatural in a typical NHL scrum.

A little facewash here and there...a few small knocks with the gloves on...an unexpected uppercut to an unsuspecting player.

Wait, what was that last part?

Gleason pulled Kulemin aside from the crowd, tossed off his gloves, and delivered a strong punch directly to Kulemin's face. Kulemin was left standing there, helpless, still bearing his gloves.

The blow sent Kulemin directly to the ice, holding his face. He immediately left the ice surface and grabbed a towel to aid his nose, which was bleeding profusely at the time.

Gleason was assessed a game misconduct and a five-minute penalty for the incident. However, there is a debate on whether or not the misconduct and ruckus over the issue is for good reason.

The question here is this: should the punch on Kulemin be considered a clean shot or a sucker punch? And if the answer is the latter, then will there be suspensions?

Upon review, it looks as though Kulemin is the innocent party. He's not a fighter, never has been a fighter, and was not looking for a fight.

He gave Gleason a few taps on the head with his gloves on, sort of a facewash-looking thing. It was then that Gleason separated the Russian winger from the mess, and bam. It happened.

Some could argue that Kulemin was asking for it with the facewash he dished out, but those happen on a regular basis in the NHL. Punches like this, however, are not on the daily menu.

Leaf players were not amused with the situation. Winger Clarke MacArthur was the most opinionated of the Leafs, stating that he was "disgusted" with the incident.

"I think Kulie just went in there to stick up for teammates," He said. "Gleason obviously isn't that smart, so. It was pretty cheap. Kulie didn't drop his gloves and you know he gets suckered like that."

"There's certain match-ups on the ice, and I don't care what [Gleason] says, you know when you're in the right match-up. A guy like Kulemin's never been a guy to fight and Gleason does it a lot. He knows better than that."

Reporters brought up another idea during the MacArthur interview, regarding a code in the NHL for fighting. This code would suggest that fighters don't chase players who don't fight, and regardless of who you are, you don't victimize an unprepared, unprotected player.

Gleason did both of those things Monday night.

Not only was Kulemin completely unprepared and not looking for a fight, he hasn't registered a major penalty for fighting in his NHL career. Gleason has posted 33.

The play will likely be under review, and only so much speculation can be made until more details come of Kulemin's status. Until then, one person's guess is as good as the next's as to whether or not Gleason will be punished. 

The Leafs play two more games against the Hurricanes, one at home and one in Raleigh. MacArthur stated that he thinks the squad will be looking forward to those dates.

"We've got a couple more games here [this season] so we'll see. Obviously we want to come back hard against these guys so we'll see what happens."

Them's fightin' words, Clarke.

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