It’s the latest incident of on-ice violence that has put minor hockey league in the public spotlight.
Now one of the coaches who had a bird’s eye view of Sunday’s melee in Stonewall says stiff sanctions are needed to send the message that this sort of conduct won’t be tolerated any longer.
"It’s just sad. It’s just another black-eye for the game," Peter Mandryk, a coach with the Stonewall Blues, told the Free Press on Monday. "In all my years of involvement I’ve never seen anything that bad."
Mandryk was actually working as the timekeeper Sunday afternoon for the final game in the Best-Of-3 provincial Bantam final between his Blues and the Lake Manitoba First Nation team. The squads had split the first two games, meaning this one was for all the marbles. Bantam hockey is for 13- to 14-year-olds, and both teams had girls and boys on their rosters.
He said the game quickly got out of hand when the Blues scored three goals in the first period and appeared well on their way to victory. The Lake Manitoba team began playing aggressively, resulting in several major penalties and a handful of ejections for cheap shots and head contact. He said Lake Manitoba parents were also screaming and harassing the referees, claiming they were calling a one-sided game.
The game reached a boiling point with 11 minutes left in the 3rd period and Stonewall holding a commanding 5-1 lead. Mandryk said one of the Lake Manitoba players attacked a Blues player, resulting in a skirmish that saw the two referees and linesman have to get involved. At this point, three or four Lake Manitoba players began shoving and even kicking at the linesman who ended up on the ice.
Once the players were separated, a female player on Lake Manitoba took the puck, wound up and fired a slap-shot at the referees which narrowly missed hitting them.
"To see that level of disrespect is unacceptable," said Mandryk. At that point the referees called the game, awarded the Blues the championship and quickly ushered them off the ice.
Mandryk said his players and parents were shocked. Instead of a deserving on-ice celebration, they huddled in their dressing room while the Lake Manitoba players remained on the ice and RCMP rushed to the arena to deal with the tense situation.
Police ultimately escorted all of the Lake Manitoba players and parents out of the rink and took a series of statements as they launched a criminal investigation. They are also reviewing video and pictures of the incidents. No charges have been laid.
Mandryk also serves as president of the Stonewall Minor Hockey Association and said his executive will be discussing potential recommended sanctions – including expulsion from the league of the Lake Manitoba team – to bring to Hockey Manitoba officials which oversee the league.
He said Lake Manitoba was previously banned several years ago for other incidents of rough play and unsportsmanlike conduct, but were eventually given a second chance and let back in.
Mandryk said contrary to some reports, there was no fighting in the stands or any incidents involving parents beyond verbal abuse of the referees.
Grant Heather, Hockey Manitoba's referee-in-chief, told the Free Press there were four match penalties -- which carry player ejections -- called in the game for abuse of officials, including shooting the puck at a referee. He said a three-person system was in place and the three officials were adults. The two referees were paid about $25 to $35 and the linesman was paid $20 to $30.
He said the officials were not seriously hurt, but the incident is similar to one on Feb. 16 at the Southdale Community Centre between Brokenhead and Sagkeeng First Nations. Coaches and other players physically abused officials as they tried to break up an altercation and stick-swinging incident on the ice. A 12-year-old boy got a broken wrist in the melee.
- with files from Ashley Prest