A Lake Manitoba woman who saw a bantam hockey game turn into a brawl says the young players feel terrible about what happened but believe they were provoked by the referees.
RCMP were called in to break up the melee involving members of the Stonewall Blues and the Lake Manitoba Eagles during the last period of a championship game in Stonewall, Man., on Sunday afternoon.
Police say one of the referees was allegedly hit by a 14-year-old player from the Lake Manitoba team, and some parents were fighting in the stands.
Margaret Swan, a Lake Manitoba supporter who attended Sunday's game, says the players told her the referees were using abusive language "about race, and just being very aggressive with them."
"I've seen that too from where I was sitting. They were always the ones getting shoved by the refs and being in their face," she told CBC News.
"I think someone needs to really take a look at what referees do on their part to fuel some of that negativity."
At the same time, Swan said the players' parents do not condone their children's behaviour.
"Absolutely not. You got to be the better person," she said. "Just because they treat you that way doesn't mean it's OK for you to behave like that."
Tensions were high
A coach with the Stonewall Blues told CBC News earlier this week that tensions were high during the game, and the other team had racked up a lot of penalties.
Things got out of hand when players from the Lake Manitoba team tried to start a fight and one player shot a puck at a referee, said Peter Mandryk.
But Lake Manitoba First Nation Chief Barry Swan, who also attended the game, denied that a puck was shot at the referee.
Both he and Margaret Swan said officials were calling too many penalties against the Eagles for most of the game.
"The young people were not happy with some of the things that went on on the ice. But at the same time, I think the refereeing was so not fair," said Margaret Swan.
"Had it been fair, I don't think things would have escalated to where they did."
The game was stopped, and about 100 people had to leave the arena, but no one was hurt, according to police.
The RCMP and Hockey Manitoba are investigating the incident.
Hockey Manitoba's director of officials, Grant Heather, has said at least 20 incidents of violence toward a hockey official have been investigated this season alone.