COMMENTARY: Aftermath Of An Assault

Less than two seasons after thugs nearly killed Boston University defenseman Kevin Schaeffer in a brutal assault, Michigan Wolverine football player Mike Milano is suspected of bodyslamming Michigan hockey defenseman Steve Kampfer to the concrete in a cowardly attack last Saturday night.

This latest senseless attack on an NCAA hockey player has many unanswered questions, including why it happened and what might have led up to it. The rumor mill is running wild in Ann Arbor, Mich., but what is known and printed in a Michigan Daily story has witnesses saying three men had played a part in pushing past Kampfer and a friend on an Ann Arbor street late Saturday night.

Witnesses say that Kampfer’s friend said something to the three as the three approached the unsuspecting duo and Milano, who trailed the other two, came from behind, lifted Kampfer, and slammed him to the concrete. Kampfer was left unconscious, according to reports.

How the Wolverines players and staff handle this has yet to be seen but having a steadying influence like Red Berenson should be a huge help. There are psychological steps to be hurdled, especially by Kampfer. The questions are, how badly hurt is he? Can he can return to hockey? For the players, it’s an invasion of their safety and an assault on their overall well-being. How Michigan gets through this will depend on how well the team rallies around its leadership.

The leadership was among those attacked in the BU incident that occurred on a warm December night in 2006. Kevin Schaeffer, Sean Sullivan, and John Curry were all upperclassmen when the incident happened.

“There was a two-on-two argument between one of our players, a friend of his who was a little to inebriated and sick, and two guys they didn’t know who were making fun of the fact that he couldn’t keep his alcohol down,” said Schaeffer from Binghamton, N.Y., where he is a member of the AHL’s Binghamton Senators. “There was a little tussle, then they came back prepared for battle. Sully got hit with a wrench and took seven staples in the back of his head. Curry got blindsided. I came downstairs out of the house and hit with a bat and was out cold. I don’t remember much.”

I talked with Boston University coach Jack Parker Wednesday morning. Parker, who has guided the BU hockey family through a few tragedies including the recent death of former star goalie Scott Cashman at 39, was unaware of the incident at Michigan; ironically, the Wolverines visit BU next week.

Parker thought back to when Schaeffer, Curry, and Sullivan were brutally beaten with bats, hammers, wrenches and golf clubs by attackers at a house party near the campus of BU. The players were out after a weekend series against Boston College, and all were where they were allowed to be and were not in violation of any team rules.

Such incidents have happened in college hockey before, some off-ice like the two being discussed, and some on the ice like the tragedy of former BU forward Travis Roy, who was paralyzed 11 seconds into his NCAA career.

“I remember the first thing that I had to do was get all of the facts and that took two or three days,” said Parker thinking back two seasons. “The most pressing thing was Kevin’s health because we had no idea how he was or what his future was. The other two, Curry and Sully, weren’t that bad but Kevin could have been killed.”

Parker commented after seeing Schaeffer in the hospital that he looked like former Red Sox slugger Tony Conigliaro, whose career was ended when he was beaned in the face by a pitch in August of 1967. The incident was so bad even the Boston College players were affected.

“I remember calling the team together a few days later when we realized Kevin was doing better and out of the hospital and I talked to them. What happened was really bad but was minor compared to the Travis Roy situation,” said Parker of putting it in perspective for his players. “Overall, the players realized that this was a random invasion of their space by two non-university students. Psychologically it wasn’t the same trauma we suffered when Travis got hurt. That helped a little, that perspective.”

Schaeffer was taken to the hospital where he lay unconscious. Several teammates came to visit the next day and were noticeably shaken by seeing him attached to machines, the right side of his face bruised and blackened and his eyes swollen shut.

The incident happened near semester break and Parker pulled the team together for a meeting. Schaeffer was able to attend but looked like he had been through a war. The players knew he would be all right, but still could barely function and that day’s practice was awful.

“The bottom line is I was okay — I was lucky,” said Schaeffer, who incidentally shook off a poor first semester of play to be BU’s best player in the second half. “I remember thinking that every game I played I was lucky to be playing in and so I just let loose, had fun, and played like I had nothing to lose and I played really well. Jack actually joked with me late in that second semester that someone should have hit me with a bat earlier to wake me up. But that’s Jack, he can say that at the right time and you know he cares.”

The two suspects were finally convicted and sentenced to jail time this past summer.

Schaeffer didn’t know of the Michigan incident but thought about what must be going on at Yost, and what needed to happen from his experience.

“The coaches and the player who was hurt need to show the team he’s okay. Jack did an incredible job keeping the players under control, letting them voice their feelings and opinions,” said Schaeffer of the aftermath. “When I came back a few days later, it was a combination of Jack wanting the guys to know I was okay, and me letting the guys know I was still behind them, still their teammate, and I was that this shouldn’t be something that affects their season.”

It was then that Ryan Weston stood up and told the team that they need to do what other teams both at BU and elsewhere have done in these situations and use this as a rallying cry to fight through and have a great season. It also helped the guys learn that you can’t take anything for granted because they knew it could have been any one of them that was on the receiving end of that baseball bat.

That is the challenge facing Michigan. The best thing for the Wolverines is that they travel to Marquette to play Northern Michigan this weekend and will have some alone time. How they use it will go a long way to how well they’ll play this season. And if they still have any questions, they can ask the folks at BU when they get to Boston on October 25.