Monday, 31 March 2014

This Has Got To Change

If you look closely at the picture to the left, you might see something that will shock you. These are bantam-aged kids engaged in a brawl, and that alone should be a little shocking. The 13 and 14 year-olds from the Stonewall Blues and the Lake Manitoba First Nation from the Interlake Bantam Hockey League in Manitoba brawled with 11 minutes remaining in the game. The problem? The person at the bottom of that pile seen above is an official, not a player. Yes, you read that correctly.

Having read a few articles about this game, it is clear that there is a problem in minor-hockey that won't be solved by some panacea. This is a problem that runs deeper than just adjusting an attitude or changing a coaching style. This is a deeply-rooted problem that needs extreme measures levied in order to stop this kind of insanity.

Before we got too far into this, here is an eye-witness account from Peter Mandryk, a coach from the Stonewall Blues that was found in the Winnipeg Free Press today. Mandryk was working as a time-keeper for the game when the problems in the third period started. Reporter Mike McIntyre wrote,
He said the game quickly got out of hand when the Blues scored three goals in the first period and appeared well on their way to victory. The Lake Manitoba team began playing aggressively, resulting in several major penalties and a handful of ejections for cheap shots and head contact. He said Lake Manitoba parents were also screaming and harassing the referees, claiming they were calling a one-sided game.

The game reached a boiling point with 11 minutes left in the 3rd period and Stonewall holding a commanding 5-1 lead. Mandryk said one of the Lake Manitoba players attacked a Blues player, resulting in a skirmish that saw the two referees and linesman have to get involved. At this point, three or four Lake Manitoba players began shoving and even kicking at the linesman who ended up on the ice.

Once the players were separated, a female player on Lake Manitoba took the puck, wound up and fired a slap-shot at the referees which narrowly missed hitting them.
I am shocked. I understand that both teams worked very hard to get to Game Three in their championship, but let's keep things in perspective here. I'm certainly not suggesting that winning the championship is anything but important to these kids and their parents after all the work and sacrifice needed to win a championship. What I am suggesting is that this isn't the last shot at glory for any of these kids, and that there will be other opportunities in the future if they stick with it. A bantam hockey championship, in the big picture, is a great memory, but we're stuck with the memory of this game for a reason that has embarrassed all involved.

In saying that, Hockey Manitoba needs to come down hard on those offending players who have been identified by the officials for their poor choice of actions in this game. It's time to send a message that this sort of crap won't be tolerated. This is a game played by kids, not some sort of gladiatorial war. The trophy at the end of the game is meaningless when it is awarded under these circumstances.

If you're a frequent reader of Hockey Blog In Canada, though, you know I'm going to give my opinion on what should happen. Feeling will be hurt. People may complain. As an official in a different sport where things can and do get out of hand, I couldn't care less if people don't approve of my thoughts on what happened in this game. A message needs to be sent. At 13 and 14 years of age, right and wrong should be known. Here we go.
  • The young lady who fired the slapshot at the officials should be suspended for life from any and all hockey leagues under Hockey Manitoba's jurisdiction. There is nothing on the planet that should warrant that action. Had that shot hit an official and caused serious injury, she'd be in deeper trouble that what she already is. To any other players who want to consider this action to be an appropriate solution to deal with frustration, I am now setting the lifetime ban precedent. Choose your actions wisely.
  • Any player identified by the officials who were involved in the shoving or kicking of the linesman will be suspended for one year from any team, game, and/or tournament under Hockey Manitoba's jurisdiction. You do not make contact in any way with an official for any reason, so shoving and kicking an official pushes this way beyond the line of "accidental contact". Again, had any serious injury been caused by these actions, these players would be in serious trouble. To any other players who want to consider this action to be an appropriate solution to deal with the frustration of losing the game, I am now setting the precedent at a one-year ban. Again, choose your actions wisely.
  • The coaches of the Lake Manitoba First Nation team would be placed on a one-year probationary period for their actions, or lack of action, in this situation. The coaches are responsible for their team, and they need to be held accountable for what their players did on the ice. They are also responsible for the fans attending the game as part of the team who seemed to enjoy verbally-abusing the officials. If the coaches want to survive the probationary period, they need to enforce a new set of rules for their players and their fans that stress sportsmanship, fairness, tolerance, and understanding. Otherwise, that one-year probationary period becomes a five-year ban from being behind any bench for any team under Hockey Manitoba's jurisdiction.
As per Ashley Prest's Winnipeg Free Press article, Hockey Manitoba's head official was not impressed.
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 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."
Hockey Manitoba will review the reports from the officials, and there will likely be a conference call with all those involved in order to hear each of their stories. I know people will ask for forgiveness and express regret for their actions, but, as Mr. Heather indicated, if this isn't acceptable in society, it shouldn't be acceptable at a hockey rink.

Hockey Manitoba has an opportunity to send a clear message to everyone playing hockey in Manitoba by handing down severe penalties in this situation. At some point, someone at Hockey Manitoba has to have the courage to draw a clear line in the sand by administering harsh justice. Officials deserve much better treatment than what was seen in this game, and it's time that Hockey Manitoba protect those who make the games possible.

As Mr. Heather stated, without officials, there is no hockey.

UPDATE: The Winnipeg Free Press is hot on this story as Mike McIntyre caught up with the Scott Miskiewicz, the linesman at the bottom of the pile in the photo at the top of the page. Miskiewicz has been officiating hockey since he was 13, and he has admitted that this has made him reconsider.
"As a referee, you're getting yelled at all the time. But it was the physical abuse here that was shocking," Miskiewicz told the Free Press on Monday.

He declined to discuss specifics of the incident from his perspective, citing instructions from hockey supervisors to keep quiet because of the ongoing RCMP criminal investigation. Miskiewicz has given a full statement.

Although he didn't suffer physical injuries, Miskiewicz admits the attack has left him re-considering whether he wants to continue officiating. He said it's a lot to tolerate for the $20 or $30 per game he earns.

"I'm going to take some time and think about it," he said. "I mean, you hear of stories like this happening, but they're rare. I just don't know."
In his added investigating, McIntyre also found some rather unsettling news about the Lake Manitoba First Nation team which would change my stance on the team and its coaches. As I stated above, I'd hand the coaches a one-year probationary period, but I'd waive that now with this new info.
Mandryk also serves as president of the Stonewall Minor Hockey Association and said his executive will discuss potential sanctions, including the Lake Manitoba team's expulsion from the league, to bring to Hockey Manitoba officials who oversee it.

He said Lake Manitoba was banned several years ago for other incidents of rough play and unsportsmanlike conduct but were eventually given a second chance and let back in.

Officials with the Lake Manitoba team and the Interlake Minor Hockey Association did not return calls Monday seeking comment.
Clearly, there are larger problems here within the team and the Lake Manitoba First Nation hockey program. 13 and 14 year-olds shouldn't be mercenaries. Especially when it comes to attacking the men who are trying to keep the peace.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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