The Interlake Minor Hockey Association has voted to ban all Lake Manitoba First Nation bantam and midget hockey teams for a one-year period as part of a crackdown against on-ice violence.
The dramatic move was made during an executive meeting Wednesday night.
"Everyone was unanimous with the decision. It's a step that had to be taken," Chris Barrett, the past-president of the IMHA, told the Free Press Friday.
That means all Lake Manitoba players aged 13 to 17 will have to find another league willing to take them if they wish to continue their minor hockey careers next season. Lake Manitoba players aged 12 and under will be allowed to continue, although they will play out of Ashern instead of their home community.
'They didn't learn from last time'
This is the second time in recent years a full-out ban has been issued for Lake Manitoba players in their teens.
"They didn't learn from last time," said Barrett, noting the players were only recently allowed back into the league only to have the "wheels fall off" this past season.
The breaking point came during last month's third game of the best-of-three Interlake Minor Hockey Association bantam regional championship series, which was won by the Stonewall Blues but marred by an ugly on-ice incident that made national headlines.
Earlier this week, it was announced a male player from Lake Manitoba who shoved a linesman escorting him off the ice was suspended until 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.
Despite the suspensions, Interlake referees called the punishment a "joke" and said they would not continue to work games involving teen players from Lake Manitoba because of ongoing safety concerns. That position was taken into consideration by the IMHA executive, said Barrett.
On Friday, Doug Zeller, the IMHA regional referee co-ordinator, told the Free Press they are satisfied with the team bans. He said officials will be fine with working the games involving younger Lake Manitoba players out of Ashern.
"There haven't been a lot of issues with the younger programs," said Zeller.
The IMHA won't automatically allow Lake Manitoba bantam and midget teams back into the league following the ban. They will have to prove changes have been made to ensure history doesn't repeat itself again.
"The leadership has to be accountable," said Barrett. "We can't jeopardize the whole league for this."
Zeller said he isn't holding his breath for Lake Manitoba to clean up its act.
"Until they get some better leadership, I don't know what will change," he said. "They certainly didn't learn from last time."
RCMP are continuing to investigate the incident in Stonewall and could lay criminal charges.
Earlier this week, the Free Press exclusively reported Manitoba justice officials have authorized charges against two 12-year-old players and a coach from Sagkeeng First Nation following another ugly on-ice incident that saw a referee attacked.
Winnipeg police were called to the Feb. 16 peewee game at Southdale Community Centre between Sagkeeng and Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation during the Southeast Winter Tribal Days hockey tournament.
On Friday, the 35-year-old coach was formally charged with assault and released on a promise to appear in court. Police have yet to arrest the two young players, who will be charged with assault with a weapon.