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EDITORIAL: Zero tolerance for hockey violence

Calgary Flames center Elias Lindholm, left, fights with Colorado Avalanche center Alexander Kerfoot during the first period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey playoff series Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) ORG XMIT: CODZ121
Calgary Flames centre Elias Lindholm (left) fights with Colorado Avalanche centre Alexander Kerfoot during Game 4 of an NHL hockey playoff series April 17, 2019, in Denver. — Postmedia News

“I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out.” — comedian Rodney Dangerfield.

Well, that’s not quite hockey’s reputation. Not any more, at least, and not as much at the top levels of the game.

But there is a troubling amount at a different level.

This past weekend in Lethbridge, Alta., a skills development tournament got ugly when a 10-year-old player hit a referee twice with his stick.

Stop and think about that for a moment: a 10-year-old slashed the referee.

When the referee subsequently pushed the player to the ice, a melee broke out, with five men coming onto the ice. An opposing coach was knocked over, as was the referee, who was subsequently pummeled by two of the men.

Referees will tell you that their jobs are getting more and more difficult. Both parents and players seem to expect more than ever, and have shorter fuses as well. Search “hockey referees and attacks” in Google, and you’ll find a parade of unsettling events, often on video.

The episode was caught on video.

The opposing coach and the referee were both injured.

Two men were arrested. Each will have their day in court, but one thing’s clear: the referee was violently attacked.

Referees will tell you that their jobs are getting more and more difficult. Both parents and players seem to expect more than ever, and have shorter fuses as well. Search “hockey referees and attacks” in Google, and you’ll find a parade of unsettling events, often on video.

It’s made it harder to find people who are willing to referee games, and no doubt this latest altercation will not do anything to improve the situation.

What will?

Well, maybe it’s time for absolutely zero tolerance, especially in the minor hockey ranks. It’s a hard thing to say, especially to players who may be passionate about the sport — and parents who are equally involved — but players and parents who strike or threaten a referee should be finished with organized hockey. For good. If they can’t play a game within the most basic of rules, they can’t play at all.

The parents should be gone from the stands for good as well — no second chances. No promises of better behaviour.

It would not take long for the message to be abundantly clear — clear enough to penetrate the fog of rage that sometimes seem to overtake hockey parents and young players alike.

Secondly, as in the Lethbridge case, the police should be immediately involved. An assault is an assault whether it takes place on the ice or in a parking lot. Complaints should be laid, and the process should be followed through the courts.

Lots of people lose their temper, but when the permanent effects of that lost temper are clear and consistently applied, it’s remarkable how well and how quickly a message can sink in.

Coaches can make zero tolerance clear in the dressing room, and after a few “retirements” from the game, life will be a whole lot more enjoyable for officials wearing the black and white stripes.


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