A stellar week for youth Hockey…unbelievable


1 Response to “A stellar week for youth Hockey…unbelievable”

  1. December 8, 2009 at 5:27 PM

    Jail was the penalty box for three Ontario men who allegedly attacked police during a drunken hotel-bar brawl while visiting New York state on the weekend to take part in a popular children’s hockey tournament.

    For Canadian minor hockey, it’s another black eye as the sport grapples with a tide of unsportsmanlike conduct involving parents and players, on and off the ice.

    Early Saturday, the head coach, assistant coach and a hockey dad with the Cobourg Minor Hockey League’s bantam team were arrested at a Holiday Inn in Grand Island, N.Y., after deputies with the Erie County sheriff’s department encountered what they described as a “bar full of belligerent, obnoxious, intoxicated Ontario men visiting the hotel while in the area for a kids’ hockey tournament.”

    Late last night, a judge set bail for the men ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 each. It’s unclear if they were able to post the bond and return to Ontario with their 13- and 14-year-old charges.

    “It’s a rotten shame,” said Bob Harrington, director of the 38th Annual December Shootout, a three-day hockey tournament in Niagara Falls, N.Y., for young players from the United States and Canada. It was the Cobourg team’s first appearance at the tournament, he said.

    “These tournaments are about the boys, they’re about the kids having fun and learning from example how to be good gentlemen, how to work hard for their teams, how to be professional and how to be respectful. What happened here kind of flies in the face of what we’re all trying to accomplish.”

    Police said the melee began at about 2:30 a.m. at the Holiday Inn Grand Island Resort and Conference Center. Two deputies responding to reports of a disturbance entered the hotel’s lounge and “were approached and attacked immediately upon entering. A large physical confrontation erupted,” said Lieutenant Sean Simet of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.

    The deputies called for backup from the U.S. border patrol and a local police force. When the dust had settled, one deputy was nursing minor injuries and the Ontarians were in handcuffs.

    Head coach Jay Stevenson, 38, assistant coach Dennis Heinz, 39, and Rico H. Razaly, 39, all of Cobourg, were charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration. Mr. Stevenson was also charged with two counts of assaulting a police officer. Mr. Heinz was charged with public lewdness after a man allegedly pulled down his pants at the bar, Lt. Simet said.

    Phil Beatty, president of the Cobourg Community Hockey League, declined comment when contacted yesterday.

    Mr. Harrington said he will not invite the team or its coaching staff back to his tournament, although he said he doesn’t want to punish the players for the sins of the adults.

    “I feel bad for the families of the teams because I’m sure they’re somewhat embarrassed by the incident,” he said, adding his positive feelings for Canada “haven’t changed one bit.”

    Minor hockey’s reputation has suffered a number of body blows in recent years.

    League violations in the Greater Toronto Hockey League last season reveal a pattern of racism, hits to the head and referee abuse, a Toronto newspaper reported yesterday. Several GTHL players were suspended last year for posting discriminatory and threatening messages on Facebook.

    A 17-year-old hockey player was charged with assault after an opponent’s spleen was ruptured in a stick-swinging incident during an Ontario Minor Hockey Association game in 2008. Two years ago, the GTHL, Canada’s largest minor hockey league, suspended two team officials after a brawl involving eight-year-old players.

    Copyright 2009 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
    The Toronto Star

    December 5, 2009 Saturday

    SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A01

    HEADLINE: Violence, racial slurs on rise in kids’ hockey

    BYLINE: Robert Cribb, Toronto Star

    Racial epithets screamed at opposing players, vicious hits to the head, blatant attempts to injure and coaches threatening officials with violence.

    Welcome to minor hockey night in the GTA.

    Never-before-published records on critical violations in the Greater Toronto Hockey League reveal troubling undercurrents in youth hockey.

    During the league’s 2008-09 season, players as young as 13 were assessed a dramatically increasing number of penalties for “discriminatory slurs” from insults about sexual orientation to players calling their opponents offensive racist terms.

    League records also reveal startling cases of violence on the ice committed by repeat offenders.

    Some teenage players have drawn dozens of major penalties over their minor hockey careers, including repeated offences for spearing, checking to the head, checking from behind, physical abuse of an official and spitting on opponents.

    In most cases, they serve short suspensions before returning to the ice.

    Experts say anti-social on-ice behaviour in minor hockey is rooted in deeper social problems – from stresses at school or at home to overly aggressive coaches and imitating National Hockey League heroes.

    “This is about the way society is going,” says John Gardner, president of the GTHL, the largest and most competitive minor hockey organization in the world, with about 500 teams and 8,000 players.

    “We don’t tolerate it in minor hockey. … It’s still a damn good game. The benefits still outweigh the problems.”

    Still, those problems are a growing concern among league officials, parents and coaches.

    “The level of intensity has turned the arena into an unusual place,” says Pat Flatley, a 14-year NHL veteran who played in the GTHL in the early ’70s and now coaches the league’s Toronto Young Nationals minor peewee AAA team.

    “There is gossip, innuendo, backstabbing and a place for taunts.”

    The Toronto Star examined league data on 6,500 major penalties last season as well as 122 investigations by the GTHL into its most serious incidents, in which officials filed formal reports that led to suspensions.

    The investigation found:

    There were more than 475 penalties last year for checks to the head in the GTHL – a third more than a year earlier.

    Players as young as 11 are suffering concussions serious enough to have lasting health effects and end their hockey careers.

    Coaches and players lashing out at officials with verbal and physical abuse, including head-butting and death threats.

    A tenfold increase in discriminatory slurs over the past three seasons.

    The GTHL’s own internal research into on-ice incidents, obtained by the Star, shows many of these problems are getting worse.

    Consulting firm Justplay Sport Services Inc., hired by the league to poll officials after each game between 2005 and 2008, found the conduct of players, coaches and spectators had “worsened” and officials’ dissatisfaction with the state of the game had increased.

    League on-ice officials have assessed about 6,500 major penalties over about 10,000 games during each of the past two seasons.

    Some of the most serious penalty categories have risen.

    In the 2006-07 season there were only nine penalties called all season for discriminatory slurs. Two years ago there were 47. Last year, 96.

    Complaints about racial taunting suddenly took a leap about two years ago, says Scott Oakman, the league’s executive director.

    In response, the league issued a directive to officials and clubs to be “on notice” about racial comments.

    “Socially, this is unacceptable,” he says. “With the nature of our demographics, we have an obligation to address it.”

    League investigation reports into discriminatory slur incidents read, at times, like racist pamphlets.

    In a January game of Midget A 16-year-olds, a Toronto Avalanche player lined up for a faceoff in the offensive end when the game official heard him call the opposing goaltender a “dumb f – Jew,” says a league investigation report on the incident.

    It was the aggressor’s 14th major penalty between 2005 and 2008 including five for disputing officials’ calls (one with added verbal abuse of an official), checking to the head, checking from behind and two for inciting.

    He received a three-game suspension – the league’s standard response to the offence.

    In another case, last November, a 14-year-old AAA member of the Mississauga Reps disparaged an opposing player this way: “Shouldn’t you be out blowing up buildings or something?”

    The verbal aggressor had 15 major penalties since 2003 and was suspended for three games.

    Referee Carl Friday, a 27-year veteran of the GTHL, remembers when he heard a youngster direct the n-word at him in 1997, and it reverberated like an echo.

    Only a week earlier, NHL player Chris Simon of the Washington Capitals had called then-Edmonton Oiler Mike Grier a “nigger” during an emotionally charged exchange on the ice. (Simon was suspended for three games and later made an abject apology to Grier.)

    While public debate over the Simon-Grier incident was still raging in the media, a 16-year-old hurled the identical epithet at Friday before threatening the black referee’s life. As with all such cases, the league handed out the standard three-game minimum suspension.

    It’s hardly a sufficient deterrent, Friday says.

    “I would like to see a five-game suspension,” Friday said. “With a three-game suspension, it is like, ‘So I get a weekend off. Big deal.'”

    The Ontario Hockey League imposes an automatic five-game suspension for racial slurs.

    Kevin Weekes says the GTHL should go even further.

    An NHL goalie for 11 years, the former Toronto Red Wing in the GTHL says the racial harassment he suffered in tournaments as a black youngster was never appropriately penalized.

    He recalls parents of opposing players at one tournament yelling the n-word at him as he stood on the ice. In some cases, a chorus would grow as young players joined their parents in the chants.

    A three-game suspension is no remedy, says Weekes, who now works as a television commentator.

    “It should be 10 or 15 (games),” he says. “We pride ourselves for being a multicultural city but we … still tolerate this behaviour.”

    The GTHL’s Oakman says the league does issue longer suspensions in some cases.

    But increasing the mandatory minimum beyond three games would be unfair, he says.

    “There are degrees of discriminatory language. When you increase (the minimum suspension), the lowest common denominator moves up.”

    The fact that a penalty for discriminatory slurs even exists speaks to an “insidious moral fibre within the social fabric that extends to the sport environment,” says Dr. Bill Montelpare, a sports researcher at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. “This behaviour is intolerable in society; the hockey arena is not exempt.”

    Of the GTHL’s approximately 300 officials, fewer than a dozen are visible minorities, say league officials.

    Racist language in minor hockey doesn’t always come from players on the ice.

    A non-Italian linesman claimed a parent called him a “f -ing wop” and a black referee who disallowed a couple of goals said the parent told him to go back to basketball and football.

    rcribb @ thestar.ca

    Copyright 2009 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
    The Toronto Star

    December 6, 2009 Sunday

    SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A01

    HEADLINE: Hockey refs fear for game, own safety;
    Increased threats, verbal and physical abuse against officials called ‘disgusting’

    BYLINE: Robert Cribb, Toronto Star

    When a Toronto teen lifted his stick and took a baseball-like swing at an opponent’s leg during a minor hockey tournament in January, it was only the warm-up act.

    Enraged by the resulting penalty for slashing, the 16-year-old turned his temper at the referee in the kind of anti-authoritarian outburst that has many officials concerned for the game and, in some cases, their own safety.

    The player spun around, skated at the official and “cross-checked him in the chest,” says a Greater Toronto Hockey League report on the incident. “(It was an) attempt to injure.”

    The Star gained exclusive access to 122 such reports into the GTHL’s most serious on-ice incidents last year.

    They revealed a disturbing pattern of growing racism, hits to the head and referee abuse.

    Like many aggressors penalized for abusing officials, the player who cross-checked the referee had a long record of misdeeds.

    Since 2002, the player had accumulated 18 major penalties, including six for checking from behind, two for checks to the head and two for disputing the call of an official.

    He was given a seven-game suspension for the cross-check.

    “What I see today is a lack of respect for the game, for players and no respect for the referees,” says Stan Butler, a coach currently with the Ontario Hockey League’s Brampton Battalion. He spent decades in the GTHL, junior hockey and with Team Canada Juniors.

    “In the GTHL, I see kids getting into tussles with linesmen. I see kids disputing with the referees and slamming their sticks. … It’s disgusting.”

    There were more than 1,100 major penalties assessed in the GTHL last season for varying degrees of outbursts against officials.

    That’s an instance every 10 games.

    There was an increased incidence last season of several serious penalties dealing with official abuse.

    There were 226 calls for “harassment of an official/unsportsmanlike conduct” – up from 65.

    The league conducted six investigations last season into “threatening an official” incidents, up from two the year before.

    Add to that a dozen calls of “physical abuse of an official,” 200 “verbal abuse” of officials, and more than 650 cases of disputing officials’ calls.

    At least some of those problems have nothing to do with hockey, says GTHL president John Gardner. The ice is merely the forum where deeper social problems play out, including troubles at home and frustration at school.

    “Hockey provided the stage where the spark ignited,” Garner says.

    Others believe hero worship of rough-and-tumble NHL players inspires disrespect for officials.

    “Patterns do form from the way the pro game is played,” says Brian Coles, chief referee for the GTHL. “All these kids want to be at the pro level. It is monkey see, monkey do.”

    In a survey done the league of 62 of the league’s top under-17 players last year, all but 12 said they fashion their play after the pros.

    Youthful defiance could also be an expression of on-ice anxiety. Asked if there’s too much pressure placed on young hockey players, about half the respondents answered yes.

    Among the listed causes were “parents with unrealistic expectations”; “coach telling you need to perform for the scouts,” agents and getting drafted into the Ontario Hockey League.

    Nearly half of respondents said they had endured intimidation tactics including “verbal attacks,” “physical intimidation,” “trash talking” and “chirping.”

    “They all want to go to the NHL,” said Pat Flatley, who coaches the GTHL’s minor peewee AAA Toronto Young Nationals after a 14-year career in the NHL.

    The pressure to get there, often intensified by coaches and parents, can set the stage for on-ice explosions, he says.

    “The kids feel that pain but then it’s the coaches (in the dressing room) and the parents in the car.” When things go wrong, says Flatley, there is a deeply held tradition in hockey: Blame someone else.

    “It’s not the refs. Some nights, you just need to look in the mirror.”

    Still, the refs are often scapegoats.

    During a November 2008 game of 15-year-olds, officials broke up a fight between two players.

    One player “began to swing his fists at me and in the process hit me once in the chin, once in the helmet as he tried to break free to start another fight,” says a league investigation report.

    “There was a clear attempt by (the player) … to hit me out of the way as to instigate another encounter with the opposing player.”

    The fist thrower had seven major penalties between 2005 and 2008, including two game ejections and five for checking from behind.

    “We get what we tolerate,” says Paul Dennis, who worked for the Toronto Maple Leafs in player development for two decades and is now a sports psychologist teaching at the University of Toronto and York University.

    “The penalties are clearly not severe enough and, therefore, we’ve built up this crescendo of players losing it (their self-control) because they’re allowed to.”

    Like Gardner, he says there are social factors beyond the rink that prompt such misconduct.

    “We’re in a downward spiral with some of these children. It started somewhere before it got to this abhorrent behaviour on the ice. It started with parents, teachers, coaches. But as long as we continue not to stop it, it’s going to fester.”

    Officials aren’t the sole targets of on-ice rage.

    League records show numerous attempts by players to injure opponents.

    rcribb @ thestar.ca

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