About 30 minutes after the end of the Wolverines’ 5-3 win over Michigan State Saturday night, a somber hush fell upon the small crowd gathered outside the Michigan hockey locker room.
The lighthearted mood from the players’ postgame press conference had dissipated. The enjoyment of six straight victories over the Spartans — the Wolverines’ longest win streak against them in 47 seasons — momentarily ended.
Junior defenseman Steve Kampfer, still in his maize game sweater and with his neck in a brace, was being carted out of Yost Ice Arena on a gurney by paramedics. As team officials cleared the hallway, a visiting junior hockey team waiting to greet the Wolverines looked on in disbelief.
Kampfer, a Jackson, Mich. native, was punched from behind by Spartan forward Andrew Conboy and slashed in the head and neck areas while laying motionless by Michigan State forward Corey Tropp in the final minute of Michigan’s victory. Michigan State coach Rick Comley called the hit “cheap” and “uncalled for” after the game.
And, according to a Department of Public Safety report, once Tropp was kicked out of the game, “a visitor assaulted a hockey player after being upset about an incident that happened during the game.”
DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown said that the incident followed the ejection from the game. She said the player ejected from yesterday’s game — which, according to the box score, was Tropp — was in the visitor’s locker room and a 48-year-old man from Jackson confronted him.
“We had a parent come crashing into the locker room and fight my player,” Comley said to the State News.
According to multiple sources close to the situation, the man was taken to the Yost offices behind the skate rental booth for DPS questioning.
“I heard him tell the officer that he did grab Tropp by the jersey, and they were also holding each other and yelling at each other,” said a person who was in the room during the questioning. The person asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the press on the matter.
The hit on Kampfer was especially poignant, considering his recent history of head injuries. He suffered a fractured skull in an off-ice incident on Oct. 12, was in a neck brace until Nov. 19 and didn’t return to game action until Dec. 27.
Kampfer was released from the hospital Sunday after being held for precautionary measures, according to Michigan officials.
“I have a strained neck right now,” Kampfer told the Detroit Free Press in a Sunday phone interview. “I had no relapse of what happened earlier. Hopefully, I’ll be back this weekend.”
Conboy’s initial hit was presumably in retaliation against Kampfer for knocking Tropp off his skates with a clean open-ice hit moments earlier. Tropp received a five-minute major for slashing, two 10-minute misconducts and a double game-disqualification, which means a minimum three-game suspension. But Conboy was just penalized with a double minor for roughing.
“I don’t want to comment on it because I didn’t see it,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said after Saturday’s game. “Their coach said he would deal with their player.”
After the game, Michigan State coach Rick Comley quickly condemned his players’ actions.
“They fought hard, and what happened at the end is not good for hockey,” Comley told the State News. “I’ll deal with our kid.”
— Senior News Editor Trevor Calero, Daily Sports Writer Gjon Juncaj and Managing News Editor Jacob Smilovitz contributed to this report.