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Police probe brawl at Winnipeg minor-league hockey game

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Warning: Video includes strong language.

Police are focusing their attention on coaches and referees as they probe a possible assault during a minor hockey game at Southdale Community Centre.

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

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

Officers were called to the Lakewood Boulevard facility just after 2 p.m.

A 12-year-old player was taken to hospital in stable condition with minor injuries after an altercation on the ice.

Surveillance and other video shows a referee got between two players to break up a potential fight toward the end of a scrappy 90-minute game between two minor-league teams, believed to be from the Brokenhead Ojibway and Sagkeeng communities.

"Get your hands off our kids!" a woman is heard screaming from the stands in one video posted to YouTube.

As two opposing players are skating off, they begin to push and shove. A referee steps in and he and a player fall hard to the ice.

This prompted cries of profanity-laced outrage from some spectators; coaching staff and players intervened physically. A good amount of jostling takes place. One player is seen slashing at the crowd of bodies with his stick, then skating away.

The official skated quickly off to cries of, "Get out of the arena!" He tosses his helmet to the ice as he leaves. Police were then summoned.

No charges laid

Police say they're looking at all circumstances leading up to the altercation.

"It does appear that emotions were running very high," said Michalyshen.

Who the actual victim is -- if anyone -- is a major part 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.

With limited information at hand Sunday, police said the event they were looking into may have occurred off-ice. This was inaccurate.

"Very unfortunate": Southdale board president

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 rented ice to the organizers of the Southeast Aboriginal Tournament, Thornton said.

They've done this in the past and said it's always been a "really good time" with good sportsmanship on display.

Thornton had seen some of the video of the altercation, calling the way observers were jeering and screaming "very unfortunate."

"I've seen that same incident play out a number of times over the years," he said. "I feel bad for the refs. And people wonder why (more) 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 leave the bench and enter the fray on the ice.

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

The altercation aside, Thornton said the organizers of the tournament had hired their own security and they and arena staff had done a "good job" of keeping order after events unfolded.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, February 17, 2014 at 2:42 PM CST: Adds comment from Southdale board president.

3:39 PM: Replaces video.

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