Former Maple Leafs draft choice Brandon Sugden has been banned for life by the East Coast Hockey League after hitting a woman in the stands with his stick.

"The conduct of Mr. Sugden is totally unacceptable, and it cannot and will not be tolerated by the East Coast Hockey League," ECHL president Richard W. Adams said in a statement Thursday.

"The East Coast Hockey League prides itself on providing family entertainment, and actions such as these will be met with the strictest penalties."

The incident happened last Friday at the home of the Dayton Bombers, the Ervin J. Nutter Center in Fairborn, Ohio, in Sugden's debut for the Peoria Rivermen.

The 22-year-old from Toronto left the arena in handcuffs under arrest. He was charged with misdemeanour assault.

According to reports in the Peoria Journal Star, the trouble started as Sugden -- a former Dayton player -- skated to the locker-room at the end of the second period.

Fans started chanting "Rehab, Rehab," a reference that was never fully explained.

"They leaned over and spit on me," the six-foot-three, 210-pound Sugden told the Journal Star. "I tried to hit the guy with my stick, and he ducked it and it hit the lady.

"I didn't intend to hit the lady at all, and I apologize to my teammates and coach.

"I heard the 'rehab' chant and saw red. I've heard chants before, but being spit on is too much. That was a completely classless act, and I want that guy charged with assault, too."

There was no word on the woman's condition. Peoria coach Jason Christie criticized the Dayton arena for poor security.

The ECHL champion Dayton Bombers won the game 5-2.

The two teams had a rematch Saturday in Peoria with Sugden watching from the stands under indefinite suspension.

Peoria won 2-1, before a season high of 7,462, in a game that featured 34 penalties and four ejections.

Sugden was Toronto's eighth choice in the 1996 NHL entry draft, the 111th pick overall.

He played junior hockey in London, Sudbury and Barrie, accumulating 14 goals, 45 assists and 745 penalty minutes in 166 OHL games.

As a pro, he has played with Dayton, Tallahassee and Peoria of the ECHL, Cincinnati of the IHL and Worcester of the AHL.

In 1998-99, he rang up 284 minutes in penalties with Dayton and Cincinnati before racking up 110 PIM in just 12 games with the Bombers last season.

This year, he had 56 penalty minutes in 11 games with Worcester before joining Tallahassee and Peoria. Sugden scored his first goal of the season for the Tiger Sharks on Dec. 29, ending an 89-game drought.

"He played very hard for us, and we really didn't have any problems with him," Tallahassee GM Larry Kish said from Fayetteville, N.C.

"He was a very physical guy. He didn't go promoting it, but when the occasion came and if he had to defend himself, he defended himself."

According to the Journal Star, Sugden arrived in Peoria with the reputation of "the most feared fighter in the ECHL."

ECHL spokesman Jack Carnefix said the suspension was specific to that league and would not prevent Sugden from playing in the NHL, although it seems a stretch to think he might ever get there.

The Rivermen said Sugden had left the team, and he could not be immediately contacted.

Another Tallahassee club official acknowledged Sugden "does have some obvious issues to resolve," but noted he deserved praise for his charity work while with the team.

Sugden isn't the only player to get into trouble for hitting fans with a stick.

Defenceman Barry McKinlay was charged with two counts of recklessly causing harm to a child in 1999 when he threw his hockey stick into the crowd in a United Hockey League game in Madison, Wis. The Edmonton native eventually pleaded no contest to a lesser charge and was fined.

The children were not seriously hurt.

Gary Coupal, an enforcer from Capreol, Ont., was banned for life by the United Hockey League in 1997 when he broke his stick over his knee and threw it into the stands. No one was hurt.

Coupal's resume includes a 49-game suspension in the ECHL -- at the time the league's longest ever -- and a 46-game ban in the OHL while a member of the Sudbury Wolves.