Junior hockey coach caught on video swinging stick at fan says he was protecting his players
Coaches have different accounts of the incident
A junior hockey coach who lashed out at a heckling fan by swinging at him with a hockey stick says he was protecting his players from an aggressive fan, but the coach of the opposing team says there was nothing to be afraid of.
The incident occurred during a Western States Hockey League game between Alberta's Hinton Timberwolves and the home-team Meadow Lake Mustangs in Saskatchewan on Friday.
Videos taken at the game show Jeff Richards, the head coach of the Hinton Timberwolves, swinging a stick at a man standing behind the Hinton bench. Children can be seen watching the scuffle.
Richards said he started swinging after the fan allegedly grabbed another Timberwolves coach from above by the scruff of the neck. He said the man had also threatened Timberwolves players prior to the incident.
"It all just happened in a big blur .... we turn around, this giant-sized man is behind us, that had been yelling profanities at us and is now yelling at these players. He's got a hold of my assistant coach by the scruff of his neck, picking him up," said Richards.
"I acted just on, you know, instinctively. I was protecting all these players and these people."
In a video shared on Facebook, Richards swings repeatedly at the man. Meanwhile the man waves his arms at Richards.
If he just stepped away, there's no way he could touch him.- Meadow Lake Mustangs Coach Marty Ross
Richards said he does not know who the man is. He said he feels there was nothing else he could have done to respond in a less violent manner in front of families and children.
"What would you do if you were in my shoes? If you were responsible for 19 young individuals, teenagers, what would you do?" he said.
"You know, it wasn't premeditated at all. It all unraveled so quickly. I just reacted ... I was protecting children."
Meadow Lake Mustangs coach Marty Ross said Richards had no reason to be afraid because he could have simply stepped away from the fan.
"There's glass, the bench drops down probably close to 10 feet," said Ross.
"If he just stepped away, there's no way he could touch him."
Ross said the other Timberwolves coach wasn't grabbed by the scruff of the neck until after Richards started swinging.
He said the hockey stick incident was the culmination of a fight and insults that started flying on the ice.
The Mustangs were fined by the WSHL after the incident for not having security onsite. Ross said they do have security personnel and a maintenance person who can also step in. He said they were on the other side of the rink when the incident occurred. Another team member was fined the next day for something they said to a referee.
Richards said the league has already responded and he has not been suspended.
Mustangs team folds
Ross said the WSHL should have responded differently.
"I think that coach should have been at least suspended until they find out, 'til they investigate," he said.
"They have to do something about it … that's just unethical. I can't go hit someone."
CBC has contacted the WSHL for comment.
The owner of the Timberwolves declined to comment.
The Meadow Lake Mustangs team was shut down by the owner after playing another game against the Timberwolves on Saturday, but Ross said the decision was not a direct result of the incident. He said it was related to finances and low player numbers.
Team director Gerald Pohl said the team forfeited its Sunday game because of a lack of players, which he said usually means a suspension or expulsion for that team.
He said there were no injuries as a result of Friday's incident.
"My understanding is that several fans stepped in to subdue and placate the fan and ultimately had him leave the arena," said Pohl.
"The benches — as well as the entire playing surface — are protected from the fans by netting."
No complaints received: RCMP
Meadow Lake RCMP Sgt. Steve Hurst said he is aware of the video but the detachment has not received any complaints.
"If people are concerned and are involved in it and do want to come forward to share information with us then that's the way we would initiate an investigation," said Sgt. Hurst.