Tampa Bay Lightning prospect and Saint John Sea Dogs forward Bokondji Imama is likely facing suspension from the QMJHL after leaving the bench to defend teammate Joe Veleno during the second period of last night's 8-5 loss to the Halifax Mooseheads.
Late in the second period, Veleno was bumped into the boards from behind by Mooseheads forward Kelly Bent. The 15-year-old Veleno, who is the first player granted 'exceptional' status by Hockey Canada to play in the QMJHL, took exception to the contact from the 20-year-old Bent. The two exchanged shoves, then gloves-on punches before the officials jumped in to break up the altercation.
Just as it all appeared to be over and settled, Imama came off the bench and jumped an unsuspecting Bent, who was about to be escorted off the ice by a linesman. Imama got several open punches in on his opponent while Bent was being restrained by the official. The Sea Dogs winger continued throwing punches and trying to grab Bent even after a second linesman tried to break up the scuffle. Watch the whole thing unfold in the video below from Mooseheads broadcaster John Moore. You can also see it from a different angle here.
This incident brings out the two extremes in the fighting in hockey debate. One side says that it's part of the game and Imama did the right thing by sticking up for an underage teammate who was being pushed around by a much older player known for physicality. The other extreme is that the type of aggression displayed by Imama has no part in the game anymore.
What can't be disputed is that Imama illegally left the bench. He received two game misconducts on the play - one for being the aggressor and one for being the "first or second player to leave a bench (players) during an altercation, or for the purpose of participating in an altercation." According to the QMJHL rule book, the latter infraction is eligible for commissioner review, as per Rule 29 - Supplementary Discipline.
L'ancien règlement pour quitter le banc dans le but d'engager un combat, c'était 10 matchs automatiques. Règlement changé depuis.
Imama was the Lightning's sixth-round pick (180th overall) in the 2015 NHL draft. As for Veleno, so far he has proved worthy of early admission to the QMJHL, holding his own with 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 26 games as an underage player this season.