Stafford attends Game 6 of series

Updated: May 2, 2004, 10:17 PM ET
Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- A minor league hockey player viciously attacked by an opponent during an AHL playoff game hopes to resume playing soon.

Cleveland Barons defenseman Garrett Stafford watched his team lose 3-1 and get eliminated by the Hamilton Bulldogs on Sunday, two days after forward Alexander Perezhogin hit him on the head with a two-handed stick-swinging attack.

"I am just trying to recover and regain my strength, so that hopefully I will be able to return to playing hockey in the near future," Stafford said in a statement.

Stafford sat in a team suite during the game.

"We were surprised when he came into the locker room before the game," Cleveland captain Tavis Hansen said. "It was very emotional."

The AHL suspended Perezhogin indefinitely, pending a league review, for what he did Friday night.

Stafford sustained a concussion and a cut on his face that required 20 stitches. He was on his knees when hit and dropped to the ice, blood gushing from the gash as he went into convulsions.

He was taken to a hospital where he was treated and released.

AHL president Dave Andrews, who was at Sunday's game, said he expected to make a decision on Perezhogin's future by the end of the week.

Barons president Michael Lehr said he would push for a severe penalty.

"The person who did it should not see the ice any time soon," Lehr said. "It was a cheap shot. It has no place in this sport."

Hamilton police are investigating the hit.

"I am leaving it up to the Hamilton authorities to decide the proper course of action in regards to this matter," Stafford said.

On Saturday, Barons coach Roy Sommer said Perezhogin, the Montreal Canadiens' No. 1 draft pick in 2001, should be banned.

"I don't think this guy should ever play again in North America," he said. "They should prosecute this guy to the fullest. This kid's in trouble and he should be."

In March, Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi was suspended for the rest of the NHL regular season and the playoffs for attacking Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore from behind.

Vancouver police have finished their investigation in that case and a decision on charges is pending.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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