Photo credit: John Scott
Yesterday, the EIHA fired a warning shot across the bows of the NIHL South clubs following multiple major incidents in the opening weeks of the season. In total, suspensions totalling a staggering 68 games and resulting in 85 penalty points were assessed in just 3 incidents (you can see all suspensions handed out by the EIHA disciplinary committee panel here).
The full text of the circular (which was sent to all clubs as well as a few of us who also report on the league) is shown below – I won’t repeat everything that is in it as you can all read it for yourself. Suffice it to say that if it happens again in NIHL South, the clubs that are deemed responsible can expect the league management committee (LMC) to well and truly throw the book at them – punishing not just the players themselves but the team officials and the club as a whole.
Some of the scenes we have seen were reminiscent of the movie Slapshot. Is this really how we want our sport to be perceived these days? For me, ice hockey as a sport has moved on massively since the days when that stereotype of the sport was even close to the norm. Do we really want to go back to that? The hockey I love is a sport of speed and skill. Yes, it’s a physical sport – and that’s one of the things I love about it. A big clean hit is a thing of beauty and I wouldn’t want to lose that. However, what has happened far too often recently is simply mindless violence and is a major step back for our league and our sport.
If this kind of behaviour continues, at some point an official will end up being injured as a result of having to step in and break up a fight. In these mass brawls that we have been seeing, it seems almost inevitable and we should be thankful that it hasn’t happened yet. Referees do a thankless job under intense pressure and scrutiny, they accept (just as players do) that injuries can happen as a result of being on the ice (just ask Blaine Evans or Joy Johnson who both have the facial scars to prove it). What they should not have to accept that they may have to take a punch even if it was meant for someone else. Our sport is struggling with a lack of officials as it is, with more officials leaving the sport then joining at the moment and how many are going to want to join if they think this is what they will have to deal with.
The fact that the referees section has seen fit to put in a formal complaint about our league should not be taken lightly. If this continues, at some point are we going to find that they simply refuse to allocate officials to our games? If that happens, our league cannot continue.
So I applaud the LMC for making it clear that this will simply not be tolerated, while at the same time feeling deeply saddened that this step was necessary. However, the coaches and managers in our league need to know that they have to control their players and make sure they are aware that this kind of behaviour will no longer just hurt them but the club as a whole.
Penalty points for bench officials means an automatic 2-game suspension at the least. That is going to hurt the clubs! With two level-2 coaches now required at every game for each team, finding replacements will be a difficult, and possibly expensive, task. Penalty points awarded directly to the teams will mean fines – and believe me the fines get quite high if you rack up enough points. Finally, given how close the season is looking this year, even a small points deduction could have an effect on the final league standings.
It may seem quite draconian to threaten to come down like a hammer on the clubs like this – but since the major suspensions already handed out to players in the first incidents clearly didn’t deter the later ones, maybe that’s what is needed to finally stop this nonsense and get back to some proper hockey!
The EIHA circular text in full:
Major Violent Incidents / Supplementary Discipline
To NIHL South Clubs (including Owners, Coaches, Officials, Players) and to whom it may concern:
Over the past four weeks, NIHL South has seen a number of major violent incidents in our league, in both NIHL1 and NIHL2. All of these have followed a similar pattern with a flashpoint on the ice turning into a fully blown line brawl. These incidents have been widely reported on and across the board are bringing the league into disrepute.
In addition to this, we must inform you all that the LMC has received a letter from the Refereeing section of the EIHA expressing their concern at this worrying trend of events that it taking place. This, naturally, is disappointing that it has got to this stage and we take this matter extremely seriously indeed. It is important that we all support our officials, without them, there is no game at all.
Over the spring and summer, we have spoken to many of the clubs in our league, both in NIHL1 & NIHL2. From these conversations, the message is clear. Clubs want the NIHL to be more presentable, more marketable and more professional (in terms of quality of operation, not status of players). These incidents undermine everything that we are all working hard to achieve.
Discipline have already been working hard on this matter and several major suspensions have already been issued and will continue to be issued for these incidents. Information on all disciplinary outcomes for all teams have been made available on the EIHA Website.
Let us be clear: These incidents are unacceptable and must be stamped out without delay. Therefore, with immediate effect, we have decided the following which shall be considered new Rules 11.8 and 11.9 of the Rules of Competition to apply to NIHL South only. These rules have been inserted in accordance with Rule 1.8 and shall be reviewed at the end of the season.
11.8 Any bench official (if that be Coach, Manager, Physio, Equipment Manager etc) that is deemed to have encouraged or failed to prevent a major violent incident will be subject to Supplementary Discipline.
11.9 For any major violent incident, alongside the existing Disciplinary arrangements for players and coaches, the LMC shall work with Discipline to consider if either club has brought the game into disrepute with its player’s actions. Clubs that are found to have brought the game into disrepute shall be subject to actions that include, but are not limited to:
- Additional Penalty Points being given to a team.
- Points deductions for competition where the game took place (or for non- RoC competitions, the league).
Let us all hope that we can get back to the usual business of hockey rather than this distraction in the coming weeks and as always we wish you the best of luck for the rest of the season.
Paul Hayes (NIHL South Chair) / Richard Carpenter (League Manager, NIHL)