An official is the latest victim of the sometimes ugly face of minor hockey violence.
Players kicked and punched the linesman while he was lying on the ice during an Interlake bantam minor hockey playoff game in Stonewall on Sunday afternoon.
The game, which saw the Stonewall Blues take the league title with a 5-1 win over Lake Manitoba First Nation, was called by officials with 11 minutes remaining in the third period after sources said a Lake Manitoba player shot a puck at one of the two referees as they escorted players to the penalty box at the Veterans Memorial Sports Complex.
Spectators were shocked at the violent display on the ice, which witnesses said involved Lake Manitoba players punching and kicking the downed linesman as the two referees and players from both sides were pulling other players off.
Bantam hockey is for 13- to 14-year-olds, and both teams had girls and boys on their rosters.
'It was right in front of my net. It was just getting out of hand the whole game... He was on the ice and there was probably four of the five Lake Manitoba players on the ice kicking him while he was on the ground.'
Witnesses said the physical abuse of the officials began not long after the fifth Stonewall goal when some players were involved in a skirmish in front of the Stonewall net and the linesman tried to break it up.
"It was right in front of my net. It was just getting out of hand the whole game," said Stonewall goaltender Bianca Zak, 14. "I don't think it was appropriate. It just wasn't right. He was on the ice and there was probably four of the five Lake Manitoba players on the ice kicking him while he was on the ground."
Zak said her teammates were trying to pull players off the fallen linesman.
"I was pretty scared."
Grant Heather, Hockey Manitoba's referee-in-chief, said there were four match penalties -- which carry player ejections -- called in the game for abuse of officials, including shooting the puck at a referee, but he said he had not yet read the referees' report.
"I'm shocked, but I'm not shocked. I shake my head and wonder," Heather said, noting 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.
"You're there for two hours, you have a 20-minute or half-hour drive, you might get a little bit for gas -- and you get jumped on by a bunch of kids," Heather said.
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.
"I go back to everything I said in the Southdale incident, which is that it's not acceptable in society, so why is it acceptable in a hockey arena for people to act like hooligans and go after authority figures?" Heather said. "The police wouldn't tolerate it; we shouldn't have to. Without referees, there's no hockey."
Phone messages left for Lake Manitoba coach Darrel Swan and for Lake Manitoba chief Barry Swan were not returned by press time.
An RCMP news release said the incident, which occurred around 4:30 p.m., also involved "some of the parents fighting in the stands."
Police were able to defuse the situation and clear about 100 people from the arena without incident.
Randy Buhay, a spectator at the game with his son, who had friends on the Stonewall team, said the abuse of officials started with verbal abuse earlier in the game.
"They were getting on the refs for a one-sided refereed game -- that's what they were saying," Buhay said. "Then their players were getting chippy and trying to intimidate our players, doing that lunge -- that 'I'm going to get you' type of lunge. It was very intimidating for our players. We're kind of used to that with Lake Manitoba teams over the years. In my opinion, they were trying to hit the kids to hurt, going after our smaller guys."
The mayhem continued after the on-ice skirmish between players and officials.
"The players that were already in the penalty box were yelling at the referees, and then one of their players shot the puck at the referees while they were at the penalty box," Buhay said. "The fans were yelling at the referees, so I think the referees had just had enough and called the game. It was nasty."
Doug Zeller, referee regional co-ordinator for the Interlake Minor Hockey Association, said the three officials were not seriously hurt.
Heather said match penalties, among hockey's most serious, tend to occur in playoff games more than in regular-season games.
"The intensity is ratcheted up, the emotions are ratcheted up. I've never, in the 30 years of my involvement (in hockey) between playing and reffing, I've never heard of more than one or two in a game," Heather said. "Four to one team specifically, obviously there's a prevailing attitude on the team that the referees were out to get them or some other typical mindset."
He said he will review the referees' report, then it will be forwarded to the Hockey Manitoba executive for a hearing.
It would likely be a conference call including everyone involved -- players and coaches -- during which each would be allowed to tell their version of the incident and Hockey Manitoba would make a ruling on it.