Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'This is not the way Arborg wants to win a series' Defiant North Stars forfeit

Team refuses to observe ban on home games; loses shot at title

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The Norway House North Stars will forfeit themselves out of the chance for the Keystone Cup championship to be held in Saskatoon later this month.

On Saturday night, the junior hockey team failed to show up in Gimli for a match against the Arborg Ice Dawgs, remaining steadfast in defiance of a ruling barring them from hosting playoff games.

"Nothing's happening. Arborg is not coming up (to Norway House) and we're not going to Gimli," North Stars governor Langford Saunders told the Free Press Saturday night.

The two teams were in the midst of the best-of-seven championship series to represent Manitoba in the tournament. Game 4 was set for today at 2 p.m. but the team will not show up in Gimli and will forfeit that game as well, Saunders said.

"It is what it is. It's in the rulebook, but we don't agree with it," he said. "The chief made it clear that we're not travelling anymore.

"We want to play our home games at home."

In early March, the Keystone Junior Hockey League suspended the North Stars from playing any home games for the rest of the playoffs after several members of the Selkirk Fishermen were injured in a semifinal game.

The league ruled the team had to play their home games at the Gimli Recreation Centre, which is a 40-minute drive from Arborg. Norway House is an eight-hour bus ride to the Gimli rink.

The two forfeited games, along with a pair of losses in Arborg last week, eliminate the team from advancing to the Keystone Cup.

Saunders said he received an email from Keystone Junior Hockey League president Rick Olson around 4 p.m. Saturday. The team will likely be suspended next season, Saunders said.

Olson could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Team coach Gordon Walker said he had yet to speak with his players about the situation.

The controversial ruling came two months after the team was put on probation in light of complaints about the squad's behaviour.

On average, there are about 12 penalties called in a typical game. But during the semifinal clash between Norway House and Selkirk earlier this month, referees called more than 30 penalties.

Hockey Manitoba president Peter Woods called the situation frustrating and disappointing.

The organization was only brought into the dispute last Wednesday, he said.

"It didn't allow us sufficient time to thoroughly investigate the situation," he said. "Our responsibility would be to find if there could have been a compromise or an alternative decision. We're not going to know that now.

"It didn't allow us an opportunity to support either program," Woods added.

"It's unfortunate a decision wasn't made on the ice, which I'm sure everyone would be looking for."

THE Arborg Ice Dawgs are heading to the Keystone Cup, but not in the celebratory glory they hoped would carry them there.

The team advances to the championship tournament in Saskatoon later this month after the Norway House North Stars forfeited the two games this weekend by refusing to show up and play in Gimli.

Arborg led the best-of-seven series 2-0 heading into action Saturday night.

"They were looking forward to playing hockey, the whole squad," team president and general manager Ivan Gulay told the Free Press Saturday night.

"It's unfortunate the way this thing winded up here tonight. Believe me, this is not the way Arborg wants to win a series."

According to a posting on the North Stars website, the team sent a charter bus to Arborg Saturday afternoon to pick up the team so they could be transported to Norway House to play.

"The bus driver waited two hours for them so they could be transported to Norway House for our home game. No show," the post reads.

Gulay, however, said his team wasn't notified.

"No one called me or any executive to acknowledge that fact," he said.

"At the end of the day, I thought Norway House would be in Gimli tonight. I really believed that. We've had a very good series in the first two games. On the ice, the players played very well, both teams.

"I'm very, very disappointed in Norway House," he said.

-- Preprost

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2012 A5

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