Suspensions issued to three players from a Lake Manitoba First Nation team for physically abusing minor hockey officials during a March 30 playoff game aren't tough enough, officials involved in the incidents say.
A Hockey Manitoba disciplinary committee issued suspensions Monday for varying lengths to three players, males and females in the 13-14-year-old bantam age category, sources told the Free Press.
The incidents occurred during the third game of the best-of-three Interlake Minor Hockey Association regional championship series, which was won by the Stonewall Blues.
A male player who shoved a linesman escorting him off the ice was suspended to Dec. 15, 2014 and a female player who shot a puck at a referee was suspended until Jan. 1, 2015. The longest suspension levied was to a female player who punched a linesman in the back of the head twice and punched a referee in the groin. She was suspended until Sept. 1, 2015.
'It's a slap in the face to officials, that's what this is' -- Doug Zeller of the Interlake Minor Hockey Association
"It's a slap in the face to officials, that's what this is," Doug Zeller, the Interlake Minor Hockey Association's regional referee co-ordinator, said. "We're out there to protect kids from getting hurt and Hockey Manitoba will not back us up in situations like this where our safety is at risk."
Zeller said the suspensions to two of the players amounted to six and eight weeks, respectively, of playing time.
"It's a joke. Hockey Manitoba, I don't know what their problem is, but their suspensions are never very long," Zeller said. "I don't know how they come up with the dates, like Sept. 1. Most of these kids aren't playing hockey all summer long. Our minor hockey, we play from the beginning of November to the end of March. That's our season. So the suspensions are a joke."
The game was called with about 11 minutes left in the third period by the three-person officials crew when a melee erupted in front of the Stonewall net.
Witnesses said Lake Manitoba players punched and kicked a fallen linesman who tried to break it up. A Lake Manitoba player then shot a puck at a referee, who was able to avoid being hit.
The IMHA additionally issued a four-game suspension to a male Lake Manitoba player who kicked a Stonewall player.
Garrett, who asked that his last name not be used, has worked minor hockey games as a referee for 16 years and was one of two referees working the March 30 game along with an 18-year-old linesman.
"I've seen the suspensions and I don't think the punishments fit the crimes," said Garrett. "The player took a slapshot at our heads. We had our backs turned so we didn't even know a slapshot was coming. The linesman yelled 'heads up.' I was the one who got punched in the (athletic) cup. She punched the linesman in the back of the head twice, she missed with an uppercut, and then when she was on the ground, she looked at me and before I could even do anything, I got punched in the cup. And she got one year."
Hockey Manitoba executive director Peter Woods, who was not part of the disciplinary committee, said the suspensions are based on Hockey Manitoba's season timeline.
"I don't know if it's an eight-week suspension in the sense that our hockey season starts September 1 and runs until the end of April. Teams start training and practising in the early part of September. I think that's how the committee probably looked at it, so it's half a season," Woods said.
Woods said he personally informed Lake Manitoba head coach Darrel Swan of the suspensions by phone on Tuesday morning after the information was emailed Monday. The Free Press interviewed Woods on Tuesday, moments after he spoke to Swan. Woods said Swan asked him about the appeals process.
But when contacted afterward by the Free Press, Swan denied speaking to Woods.
"I can't say anything right now because I want to hear it from Hockey Manitoba," said Swan. "I can't really say anything because what can I say? It was a fair hearing."
Woods said there are 10 to 20 incidents of abuse of officials per season.
"One is a number that we're not happy with, so we want to reduce that number down to zero," he said. "Individuals that do violate the rules must recognize that there are consequences."