Violent skirmish, taunting shock senior hockey coach

Former St. John's Maple Leaf Todd Gillingham says he was disgusted by a violent senior men's game this weekend that got even uglier when insults flew.
Todd Gillingham says he was appalled by what he saw during a senior hockey men's game on Sunday. (CBC )

Former St. John's Maple Leaf Todd Gillingham says he may walk away from hockey after a senior men's game this weekend that involved a violent skirmish on the ice, followed by cruel taunting from the opposing bench.

Gillingham, who coaches the North East Senior Eagles, said one of his players had his mouth ripped open by another player with the opposing St. John's Caps.

Gillingham, who earned a reputation as a tough player during his American Hockey League days, said the episode played out during a fight in the corner, and was appalling to see.

"I've played with and against a lot of the enforcers and tougher players that played in the NHL in the Eighties and the Nineties, and I've never witnessed someone tear someone's face apart with their bare hand," he said.

"When [the Eagles player] had come out of the scrum, [he] had part of his mouth torn apart from his face."

Things got even worse, Gillingham said.

When he reacted to the encounter with disgust, the other bench mocked him.

"I immediately got a reaction from the other coaches about issues that I've dealt [with] in my past with some mental health issues and battles with alcohol and alcoholism," said Gillingham.

Gillingham explained that when he reacted to the encounter with disgust, he said some players on the other bench made drinking gestures, pretending they had bottles in their hands.

"It's something that I didn't take very lightly. It's been a hard battle," he said.

"I've fought it now for five years and I'm proud of where I've come, and to have someone throw something like that back into your face in a public forum, especially when they're coaching and responsible for 20 young men at that time … it's just not called for," said Gillingham.

He added that the two incidents left him "sick to his stomach."

Caps' coach has different version of events

Wally Bray, the head coach of the St. John's Caps, said they were many penalties given in that game to players on both teams. He saw the same fight Gillingham wrote about on his blog, but said he heard nothing about a Caps player tearing the face of an Eagles player.

"There was no blood on the ice that I seen, there was no need of a Zamboni driver to come out to scrape it up, there was no towel given to their player for this," said Bray.

Bray added that the first time he heard of the injury was when he read Gillingham's blog account of what happened on Wednesday. 

As for Gillingham's assertion that players and coaches on his team made gestures making fun of his battles with alcohol, Bray said that wasn't the case. 

He said at the time, Gillingham was angry, shouting at Bray and his assistant coach, and shaking his finger at him, saying that Bray's team was out of line.

"At that time, my assistant coach rubbed his eye and said to him 'stop whining'", said Bray.

"We've coached against Mr. Gillingham these last two years and we're very familiar with his whining." 

Bray said Gillingham has had a history in the senior hockey league of being ejected from games for verbal abuse and other behaviour.

"So I'm just giving you the two sides of the story here," said Bray. 

League reviewing incident

The Avalon East Senior Hockey League is not talking about the incident, but in an email to CBC News, president David Brazil said the league is reviewing the incident.

Brazil said that while it would be premature to comment until a comprehensive review is done, he added that the league does not condone "any issues detrimental to the League and its member teams."