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Hockey fracas probed

Police investigate possible assault during scrap at rink

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Warning: Video includes strong language.

Winnipeg police are focusing on the conduct of coaches and referees as they probe a possible assault during a minor league hockey game at Southdale Community Centre.

The criminal investigation over Sunday's events comes after a penalty-filled game in which emotions ran high, police said Monday.

Winnipeg police officers were called to the Lakewood Boulevard facility just after 2 p.m.

Kainen Bell, a 12-year-old player for a Sagkeeng First Nation minor hockey team, was taken to hospital in stable condition with minor injuries, including a broken wrist, after an altercation on the ice.

His father, Robert Bell, could not be reached for comment.

The altercation happened toward the end of a scrappy 90-minute game between Sagkeeng and a team from Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation in what's called the Southeast Aboriginal Tournament. Organizers had rented the ice from the community centre.

A video posted to YouTube shows a referee getting between two players to break up a potential fight.

"It was a very good hockey game," said Sagkeeng coach Stephanie Tardiff. "It wasn't clean, clean -- no hockey game is clean... but it was a very good game between both teams."

'It's unfortunate -- and to be honest with you, a little sad'

-- Const. Jason Michalyshen

Tardiff said Brokenhead was on its way to a 4-0 victory when a fracas started near the Sagkeeng net.

Tardiff said a Brokenhead player skated in front of the Sagkeeng bench and taunted the players as the referees pulled the kids apart. A Sagkeeng player responded to the Brokenhead player in front of the bench with a slash to the legs and the two began punching each other.

That's when one of the referees appeared to grab the Sagkeeng player from behind and take him down to the ice, falling on top of him.

"Get your hands off our kids!" a woman was heard screaming from the stands in the video.

The incident prompted profanity-laced outrage from some spectators as coaching staff and players intervened physically.

A good amount of jostling took place. The YouTube video showed one player slashing at the crowd of bodies with his stick, then skating away.

The official skated off and away from the rink to cries of, "Get out of the arena!" He threw his helmet to the ice as he left. Police were then summoned.

Tardiff said the altercation continued between parents, coaches and the official off the ice, but she didn't see what happened, as she was busy getting her players into the dressing room.

She said the injured player managed to get off the ice under his own power, but was taken to hospital by ambulance in a neck brace. He will be in a cast for two weeks.

"He should have easily been able to separate the two of them," Tardiff said of the ref. "Instead of separating them properly, he grabbed my player with both hands and threw him on the ice.

"That ref should have never put two hands on one player. He should have put one hand on one player, one hand on the other player and separated them properly."

Police said they're looking at all circumstances around the altercation.

"It's unfortunate -- and to be honest with you, a little sad," said police spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen.

"It does appear that emotions were running very high."

Who the victim is -- if anyone -- is a central aspect of what police are probing, he said.

"I can't specifically say who the victim is... I don't have an absolute conclusion to provide you."

No charges have been laid. "Allow us to complete our investigation... gather the facts and we'll move forward accordingly," said Michalyshen.

The tournament -- which started Friday and ran through Sunday -- wasn't a sanctioned Hockey Winnipeg or Hockey Manitoba event, said Southdale board president Todd Thornton.

The community centre had rented ice to the organizers of the Southeast Aboriginal Tournament before, Thornton said.

He said it's always been a "really good time" with good sportsmanship on display.

Thornton saw the video of the altercation and called the way observers in the stands were jeering and screaming "very unfortunate."

"I've seen that same incident play out a number of times over the years," Thornton said. "I feel bad for the refs. And people wonder why (more people) don't want to ref," he said.

Thornton said he didn't think the referee, who was in his mid-20s, intentionally tried to hurt anyone and had simply lost his balance as he broke up the scuffle.

He said it was unacceptable to see coaches enter the fray on the ice.

"That coach should never have left the bench," Thornton said. In league-sanctioned play in Winnipeg, that's the type of conduct that would net a coach a 10-game suspension, he said.

Thornton said organizers of the tournament hired their own security and they and arena staff did a "good job" of keeping order after the altercation unfolded.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca -- with files from The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 18, 2014 0

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Updated on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 7:14 AM CST: adds video, adds image

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