Minor hockey officials in the Interlake say they won't work games involving teams from the Lake Manitoba First Nation next season.
Their decision stems from what they say is a weak response to incidents at a March 30 bantam playoff game in Stonewall between teams from Lake Manitoba and Stonewall.
They say suspensions handed down Monday for the abuse of two referees and a linesman who worked the game are too lenient.
Doug Zeller, the Interlake Minor Hockey Association regional referee co-ordinator, called the suspensions "a joke" and said no one wants to put his personal safety on the line to earn $35 to $40 per game.
"There's a bunch of us. I've got eight senior officials that do most of the Lake Manitoba games because they (the games) are such a handful, and all of us are at the point where we're not going to ref them," Zeller said.
"If they're going to start doing this, we're not going to go in there to ref. You get verbally abused anyway and then if they're going to do this stuff they were doing in Stonewall, why should we ref them? Nobody can force us to go in there and ref."
Garrett, a veteran referee who asked that his last name not be used, said he was the referee who was punched in the groin and had a puck shot at his head.
"I feel I won't be going back there. Why should we go back there when this (suspensions) is all that happens?" said Garrett, who has worked minor hockey games as a referee for 16 years.
Sources told the Free Press earlier this year that another referee had his tires slashed at a Lake Manitoba game while a three-game suspension was given to a Lake Manitoba player for spraying water at a referee.
Lake Manitoba chief Barry Swan, contacted by the Free Press for a telephone interview, hung up when he was asked about complaints of poor treatment of minor hockey officials at Lake Manitoba games.
Executive director Peter Woods said Hockey Manitoba would assist if referees declined to work Lake Manitoba games.
"I don't know if we can be selective on which games we want to take and which games we don't want to take and I'm sure the branch would mediate a resolution to that," Woods said. "If there are issues that we have to deal with, then we will certainly step up and deal with those. We're not going to put our heads in the sand and skate away when confronted with issues that we feel are challenges within our sport."
Garrett said he worked as a referee in about 15 or 20 games this season involving Lake Manitoba teams and was "always verbally abused, but this was by far the worst."