The punishment against players who assaulted referees in a bantam hockey game last month is a slap in the face for refs, says a Manitoba referee coordinator.
Doug Zeller said that until Hockey Manitoba puts more teeth into its player suspensions, his officials will no longer ref games involving the Lake Manitoba First Nation Eagles.
"We don't think the suspensions are long enough. It's at the point where why should we put our safety at risk if Hockey Manitoba isn't going to back us up with the proper suspensions," Zeller said.
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The game on March 30 between the Eagles and Stonewall Blues — 13- and 14-year-old girls and boys — had been chippy and numerous penalties had been called against the Eagles.
Things got out of hand in the third period when one of the players from Lake Manitoba shot a puck at officials, who didn't see it coming.
"She took a full slapshot at two referees that had their backs to her and didn't know it was happening until the linesman yelled at them to tell them that she was taking a shot at them," said Zeller.
"What if she would have hit them?"
The game then disintegrated into fights between players and even some parents in the stands. The referees were assaulted while trying to break up the brawls on the ice.
Ultimately, the RCMP had to be called in to help clear out the players and about 100 people from the Stonewall arena.
Zeller said the penalties handed out by Hockey Manitoba on Monday include:
- A Lake Manitoba player who shot a puck at officials is suspended until Jan 1, 2015.
- A Lake Manitoba player who shoved an official while being escorted off the ice is suspended until Dec. 15.
- A Lake Manitoba player who punched a linesman twice in back of head and punched a ref in the groin is out until Sept. 1, 2015.
Since the season doesn't start until November, the first two suspensions don't carry much weight, said Zeller.
'The message it sends is that you can physically assault a referee or fire a puck at his head and get only half a year, that's just appalling'- Garrett Gottfried
Garrett Gottfried, one of the refs who had a puck shot at him, is also upset with the penalties, criticizing them as too lenient.
"The message it sends is that you can physically assault a referee or fire a puck at his head and get only half a year, that's just appalling," he said.
Gottfried said he believes if players abuse an official, they should be out of hockey for a year for each official they attack.
"In the rule book if it says any kind of abuse of officials should be one year, then they should get the one year," he said.
"If you hit two referees in the same play, simple math: times it by two."
Hockey Manitoba defends penalties
Peter Woods, the executive director of Hockey Manitoba, is standing behind the penalties.
He said the three-person committee considered the evidence and he is confident with the decision.
"I'm confident that the sentences and the sanctions that they've applied in this particular instance are sufficient," he said, adding it's rare that everyone will be happy with a decision.
"Not to minimize what has happened at all in regards to these individuals, but any time that you do make a decision there are people that are going to say it's not enough or there are people that are going to say it's too much," Woods said.
"It's easy to make comments in that respect. It's a lot more difficult for a discipline committee to actually make those decisions."
RCMP say the investigation into the incident continues, and they will not comment until it is complete.
Refs refuse Lake Manitoba games
Meanwhile, Zeller has spoken with his referees and said they refuse to ref for Lake Manitoba next season.
He said his referees are there to make sure kids playing stay safe, but he says they won't put themselves in the position where they're going to be put in danger.
Zeller said the situation had been escalating throughout the year with Lake Manitoba, citing other instances in which officials were kicked by Eagles players.
According to Zeller, some of the other instances involving Lake Manitoba players, which led to punishment by Hockey Manitoba this season, include:
- A game misconduct and 2-game suspension for verbal abuse of a ref.
- A game misconduct and 1 game suspension for verbal abuse of a ref.
- A gross misconduct and 3-game suspension for spraying water at a ref.
The Interlake Minor Hockey Association has its annual general meeting Wednesday at the Gimli Rec Centre. Officials expect the Stonewall incident will be discussed.
Zeller wants Lake Manitoba Eagles kicked out of the league.