The coach of a minor hockey team faces charges of uttering threats after a November on-ice altercation with two teenage referees in Ste. Anne, Man.
On Nov. 25, the Sagkeeng First Nation and Ste. Anne Atom A hockey teams — made up of kids aged nine and 10 years old — were playing at the arena in Ste. Anne, a town about 45 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.
Sagkeeng coach Kyle Fontaine says at one point during the second period, one of his players got "speared" in the groin, but the referees didn't call a penalty. That came after he witnessed several other infractions go without penalties, he said.
"At that point I was already mad and I threw a glove on the ice to get the ref's attention. One of the refs came over and I started talking to him and I asked him, 'What's going on here, why are you not calling any calls?' And it escalated from there."
The other referee came over and started talking to Fontaine, and that's when he started yelling and swearing, he said.
"When I was yelling, I did say something I shouldn't have said, but when I said it I was mad. I told him I'd cut his head off, that young ref, and I left it at that."
Neal Stoesz is a coach for the Ste. Anne Aces and the president of the Ste. Anne Minor Hockey Association. He says from his position on the other bench, he couldn't hear what Fontaine said to the two referees, but that he saw Fontaine attempt to throw a stick onto the ice. That's when a man got out of the timekeeper's box and intervened, preventing Fontaine from throwing the stick.
Eventually, one of the referees ejected Fontaine from the bench.
Stoesz says after being ejected, Fontaine continued to yell profanities from the hallway behind the benches, slamming doors before eventually leaving the building.
"We all get excited. It's competitive hockey, no one wants to see a kid get hurt," said Stoesz. "I don't care what people say [about] heat of the moment or anything. If that's your heat of the moment, you should not be coaching. You should not be in that position."
Parents were stationed outside the door to the referees' room and escorted the two refs out of the arena following the game.
Following a conference call that included Fontaine, the two refs, and representatives from Hockey Manitoba, the Sagkeeng coach received a five-game suspension. Stoesz says he couldn't believe that when he heard it.
"I was beside myself. How does that happen? How do you threaten somebody's life and then Hockey Manitoba says it's only five games?" Stoesz said.
Later, the Eastman Minor Hockey Association — which the Ste. Anne and Sagkeeng teams are part of — banned Fontaine from coaching in the league for life.
Fontaine says about three or four weeks after the incident, RCMP came and charged him with two counts of uttering threats.
"I'm sorry that it happened the way it happened. When I get charged, I'm going to have to live with what I did. I'm not happy about it," Fontaine said.
"Volunteering my time for kids is what I love to do, and I've been doing this for about four or five years now. The kids I coached, I watched them grow up from squirts all the way to where they are now."
He says at the first practice after the incident, he spoke to his players and explained that what he did was wrong.
"I told them that I was sorry for the way it happened. Somebody had to say something before somebody else got hurt," he said. Fontaine has two sons who play on the team.
Stoesz said the incident was traumatic for his players.
"I know the kids on my team, when they mention Sagkeeng and the coach, they all think about … what happened. A lot of them didn't hear it, but they saw the altercation, they saw the aftermath, which is kind of traumatizing for them too."
Stoesz is glad Eastman has banned Fontaine from coaching, but worries about what might happen if he moves to another league.
Fontaine is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 18.