Willie Mitchell Uses Helmet In Fight Against Kris Letang


Dec 8, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Willie Mitchell (33) controls the puck against the St. Louis Blues during the second period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

I received several tweets from an irate Penguins fan from Arkansas during Saturday evening’s game against the Florida Panthers. She had just witnessed the Florida Panthers captain Willie Mitchell’s fight with Kris Letang and couldn’t understand how Mitchell only received a five minute penalty for fighting. The footage is now widely available on the internet and, if you still haven’t seen it, shows Mitchell appear to use Letang’s helmet to hit him with.

The tweet showed a screen print from the NHL Rulebook 2014-15. It highlighted rule 53.5:

"“Match Penalty – If a player attempts to or deliberately injures an opponent by throwing a stick or any other object or piece of equipment at an opposing player, Coach or non-playing club person, he shall be assessed a match penalty. If injury results from the thrown object, a match penalty must be assessed for deliberate injury of an opponent.”"

Although there was no injury incurred by Letang, the question of whether Mitchell attempted to injure is pertinent to whether a match penalty should have been awarded by the officials. On review of the video, linesman #75 Derek Amell, is the one who separated the two combatants and clearly witnesses Mitchell hit Letang with the helmet. One can only assume that Mitchell’s impetuous and tempestuous action was deemed to not have the intention to injure. Exploring that possibility, one must review rule 53.2 on minor penalty for throwing equipment.

Minor Penalty – A minor penalty shall be imposed on any player on the ice who throws his stick or any part thereof or any other object in the direction of the puck or an opponent in any zone.”

So, the question must be levied as to why a minor penalty was not awarded in addition to the major penalty for fighting? Was it that Amell was reticent regarding the helmet incident from Mitchell and so the issue was ignored completely? Only the official can comment on that. The officiating at times, on Saturday, was perplexing. For example, Steve Downie’s persistence to keep his fight going with Erik Gudbranson could have seen him done for the night. Perhaps his elaborate gesticulations to Gudbranson and the Panthers bench, after the fight, dissuaded a match penalty somehow?

The NHL Department of Player Safety has to review the video and apply retrospective action. Although fighting itself is not classed as “attempting to injure” per se, there are instances when a major penalty that can be awarded. It was a potentially dangerous act and should be penalised as such. As the fan in Arkansas pointed out at the time, rule 53.8 states that “supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion”.

There will be many cases where officials have made errors and not applied the rules correctly and evenly. We would appreciate any more examples, for or against the Penguins, of officials not getting it right. Please feel free to put them in the comments section below.

Mitchell’s actions were reprehensible and reckless. However, it was in the heat of the moment of a game where both sides were more than comfortable to go toe to toe with their opponents. One can only hope that Monday’s game at the BB&T Center in Sunrise does not get littered with fights. My thoughts cannot stray too far from the New York Islanders game in February 2011 because of the apparent dislike between the Penguins and the Panthers.

The final words on this go to Willie Mitchell. Unrepentant, Mitchell was quoted in the Miami Herald as saying “the linesmen would come in and their guys threw punches over the pile. We’re not going to take them in the face so we pushed back. Some guys over there [Penguins] get a long leash from the league”.