Nicole Auerbach: Kampfer didn't deserve this

BY NICOLE AUERBACH
Daily Sports Editor
Published January 25, 2009

About a half hour after Saturday’s hockey game, Karyn Kampfer was visibly upset in the lobby of Yost Ice Arena.

Moments earlier, her son, Michigan junior defenseman Steve Kampfer, was wheeled out of the arena on a gurney, held motionless by a neck brace. He was released from the hospital yesterday.

That image of Kampfer in a neck brace brings back all-too-recent memories. A well-publicized off-ice assault on Oct. 12 left him hospitalized and put him in a neck brace until Nov. 19.

A speedy rehabilitation process put Kampfer back on the ice in early December. Teammates said his return gave the team a boost. He played in the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 27-28, and he’s been one of the mainstays on the defense corps since.

Well, until Saturday.

Tensions run high in any rivalry game, but that’s no excuse for cheap shots — especially against a vulnerable target. The Spartans probably knew about Kampfer’s previous injuries. They knew to go after his head and neck, weak spots for anyone but especially for him.

And it’s certainly not a coincidence that Michigan State forward Corey Tropp’s stick happened to slash his neck while Kampfer was already down on the ice, possibly already unconscious.

“People don’t realize in the blink of an eye, your whole life can change,” said Kampfer last month, reflecting about the first injury. “I had that thought process for a week: 'Am I going to be OK? Am I going to be able to play hockey again?' ”

Now Kampfer will have to answer those questions — and more.

Besides worrying about doctors and the chances of getting back on the ice, he’s got to deal with the impending trial of Mike Milano, the former Michigan football player charged in the Oct. 12 assault. The preliminary hearing begins Thursday, and if the trial continues, Kampfer will likely have to testify.

You can’t help but feel bad for Kampfer. Twice, he’s been victimized in a cheap, under-handed way. Twice, he’s lain in a hospital bed wondering what exactly happened to him.

And this time feels worse, if that’s possible.

The reason this on-ice attack is going to be in the news for awhile isn’t just because it’s an example of how violent hockey can be. It’s not just because it exemplifies the hatred and passion of the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry. Or because of its hits on YouTube.

It’s because it was a cowardly attack on a player who has already suffered this kind of misfortune.

“To be honest, that was a classless move on their part,” junior captain Chris Summers told TheWolverine.com. “Whether it's an individual thing or a team thing, to be honest, I think it was embarrassing.

“With the game of hockey comes a lot of respect for one another. These matchups are going to get intense, but for that team to do that, for those players to do that, is completely uncalled for and unnecessary.”

Even Michigan State coach Rick Comley said the hit was cheap and uncalled for. He said he would deal with the situation.

A season-ending suspension for the stick-wielding Tropp is the least Comley — or the CCHA — could do. Not only is the hit pathetic and embarrassing for the Spartans, it’s a harmful, personal attack on someone who has already had a rough couple of months. Suspending players might not even do the situation justice. Michigan State is already guaranteed a losing season, so punishing an already-defeated team isn’t more than just a slap on the wrist.

After the hit, the Michigan student section went berserk, hurling obscenities in unison at the Spartans bench.

Those players deserve worse. And Kampfer deserved better.

— Auerbach can be reached at naauer@umich.edu