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Friday, October 12, 2007
Updated: October 13, 10:07 PM ET
Boulerice suspended 25 games for crosschecking Kesler

Associated Press

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Maybe now Philadelphia will really get the message: The deliberate and dangerous hits that put two Flyers on the suspended list no longer have a spot in a safer NHL.

Philadelphia forward Jesse Boulerice was suspended 25 games by the NHL on Friday for striking Vancouver's Ryan Kesler across the face with his stick, the longest single-season ban in league history.

The suspension was handed down by NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell after a hearing in Toronto.

"This was more than a careless and reckless play," Campbell said. "It was senseless."

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren anticipated the league's action.

"Is 25 the worst?" he said. "It's pretty close to what I expected."

Campbell said there would be a "whole heap of problems" had Kesler been seriously injured.

"If there was a worse result, maybe there would be more than me looking into it today, and that wouldn't be good for any of us," Campbell said.

Boulerice knows exactly what Campbell means. He's been in serious trouble before for violent conduct.

In 1998, Boulerice was suspended for one year by the Ontario Hockey League for violent stick-swinging. He went to the American Hockey League the following season and was ruled ineligible until mid-November.

Boulerice is the second Flyer in two weeks to draw a long suspension -- rookie Steve Downie was suspended 20 games for an intentional hit against Ottawa.

Islanders forward Chris Simon was suspended for 25 games in March for his two-handed stick attack to the face of Ryan Hollweg of the New York Rangers. Simon's suspension is over.

"It was similar to the Simon incident," Campbell said. "You don't use your stick for swinging at players, crosschecking players. You use your stick for shooting and passing.

"This was a determined effort of a player who went in the opposite direction the play was going."

Boulerice's hit came late in Philadelphia's 8-2 win over Vancouver on Wednesday night. After some pushing and shoving, Boulerice caught an unsuspecting Kesler with his stick, leaving the Canucks forward lying motionless on the ice. He eventually got up and skated to the bench on his own.

"We're by no means condoning what happened," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "He's going to have to stand up and pay the price."

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Downie was suspended 20 games by the NHL last month for leaving his feet to deliver a hit to the head of Ottawa's Dean McAmmond. Holmgren said Downie has served two games of the suspension.

The Flyers now have two of the nine players in league history that have been suspended at least 20 games on their roster.

The Flyers (2-1) play their home opener against the New York Islanders on Saturday night. Once known as the Broad Street Bullies during their 1970s heyday, they have quickly established an unwanted identity as a team full of out-of-control goons.

"It's almost implied that's the direction we're going when it couldn't be further from the truth," Stevens said.

Campbell said Flyers management and the coaching staff would not be punished.

"There's nothing formal that holds a team responsible," he said. "If you really look at the issues they have to deal with -- the roster situation, paying a player -- they have to deal with other aspects that come with losing two players."

Boulerice received a match penalty for intent to injure and Kesler called for a 20-game suspension.

"I think we're in agreement that there's no place in the game for this anymore," Holmgren said. "I do think it was an isolated incident. Jesse lost his composure, lost his cool. It's something that's not the right thing to do, at any time."

The 23-year-old center practiced Thursday and expected to play Friday when the Canucks faced the Oilers in Edmonton. The swelling in Kesler's right lip and jaw had subsided, but he still had some red marks on his face.

Boulerice apologized after the game.

"I reacted in a bad way, the wrong way," he said.

In the OHL, Boulerice was charged with assault to do great bodily harm less than murder. He pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of aggravated assault.

"Whatever happened in Jesse's head triggered something," Flyers forward Mike Knuble said, referring to the latest suspension. "For the most part, players don't want to see players going after each other with sticks in the face. That's not the game we're trying to promote."

Boulerice will forfeit $63,502.75 in salary and is eligible to return December 13 against Montreal.

The Flyers signed the 29-year-old Boulerice after a tryout in training camp. He played three games for the Flyers in 2001-02, spent the next three years in Carolina and has eight goals and 10 points in 167 career games.

The suspension marred a quick turnaround for the Flyers, who had had the worst record in the NHL last season, but have already scored 14 goals in three games.

"Certainly the perception of the people around the league, in the hockey world, the focus is on one thing and one thing only," Stevens said.