Hockey is a rough and emotional sport. It is not uncommon for players or coaches to disagree with calls on the ice. Sometimes this leads to heated arguments where the player or the coach is ejected from the game.
For MHA Keith Russell emotions and frustration took the best of him at the Alvin Parrill Tournament over the Remembrance Day weekend, leading to a six game suspension.
Russell said problems in the tournament began on Saturday night after a couple of questionable calls by the Lab West referees.
“We had an incident where our Captain had the puck and was heading up the ice, there was a knee on knee collision, resulting in him getting a penalty,” Russell said.
“I questioned the referee on the call; at that time there was no problems. The ref explained the call and that was that.”
Russell said the second problem came after a tripping call. They gave the penalty to their captain, who was nowhere near the play.
“That is where we got into the incident on the ice. I said ‘you got to be kidding,” says Russell. Then, according to Russell, the referee told him to mind his own business.
That is when Russell got upset and said, “then you keep your eyes on the F-ing game,” to the referee.
“After I said that, I was ejected from the game and I did not object. I let it slip and I know we are not suppose to be doing that,” Russell said.
Russell said after the game he went to the referee’s room and apologized for what happened on the bench and his poor choice of words.
Russell said the real drama started in the game on Sunday, when a player on his team tried to prevent a breakaway from a Lab West player. He tried to sweep the puck and missed, but the Lab West player did get a shot off and the goalie made the save.
The referees blew the play down and called a penalty shot.
“I asked what was going on and they would not explain. What made it worse is that they never explained what was going on to our goalie, either, before the penalty shot.” Said Russell.
Russell said that the goalie made the save on the penalty shot and everyone on the bench cheered and was clapping.
“The referee than skated to our bench and told me I was gone. I asked what for…and he turned his back and skated away,” he said.
Russell said the referee gathered the puck and awarded a second penalty shot. He said the team was never given an explanation.
On the second attempt Lab West scored. After the goal, the referee came over and asked why Russell was still on the bench and told him to get off his ice.
“I asked the referee to tell me why I was being ejected, because I was not cursing and I was not confrontational. He thought about it for a second and said ‘mocking an official,” Russell said.
Russell said that while he was being escorted off the ice the referee who ejected him came over.
“He was skating backwards, staring at me, with a grin and a couple of chuckles,” said Russell.
After an exchange of words, Russell said he called the referee a “piece of sh**.”
“It was at that time the second referee put his hands on me and said, you just got one gross (misconduct) and now you got another one.”
Russell then went into the stands where a bunch of fans from Goose Bay were sitting.
Russell claims there was a blatant elbow to the face of one of the Goose Bay players. He said that is the straw that broke the camels back with the parents.
“We watched as the player went down in a heap in front of the referee that ejected me. The play was stopped and there was no call. With that I let out a loud call, yelling at the ref saying ‘you got to call a penalty.”
“Around this time parents started swearing at the referee… and the ref identifies me…skates over to the gate and within seconds, I am confronted by the referee who ejected me on Saturday, and several Association members,” he said.
Russell said, while he was leaving, the referee from the Saturday game and members of the Association were chirping at him as he made his way to the exit.
Fellow coach Carl Kavanagh, who coached another Xtreme Bantam team playing that weekend, echoed Russell’s frustration from that weekend.
Kavanagh, who was at the Saturday game said that the referee was not giving the respect that Russell, as a coach, should have.
“You know he was just questioning a call, and this is a problem with these referees, they ignore you, they don’t give you any respect, and this is from one or two of them,” he said.
“When a player or coach is ejected from the game the referee should step aside and let the player or coach leave. He was skating towards Russell; he was talking back and forth to him. A decent referee, a good referee would have just ignored it, turned and went the other way,” added Kavanagh.
On Sunday (November 11) Kavanagh said he went into the stands to watch the championship game after his team finished.
Kavanagh said he witnessed the controversial penalty shot, and the confusion caused by the do-over.
“After the shot the referees made the decision for the Lab West player to take a second penalty shot and he never explained why a second shot was being taken to Russell and Russell stayed on the bench while the reshot was taken,” he said.
After the penalty shot Russell left the bench and made his way across the ice.
“Now, I do not know what happened at the gate, but there was an altercation and apparently something happened down there. I do recall the referees had their hands on Russell while he was leaving the ice and it was not in a friendly manner. It was almost embarrassing to see,” he said.
Kavanagh said after Russell was ejected, Russell came into the stand and sat right in front of him
“There were some parents who were upset, but at no time did Russell swear in the stands. Now think about this; first he (Russell) gets tossed off the ice, and as far as I am concerned he was ignored to the point to where he was thrown off the ice. He comes into the stands and this referee is skating by looking at Russell and paying more attention to him then what is going on the ice.”
Kavanagh said that people were in the stands heckling the officials, which is typical in a hockey game and the referee saw Russell in the stands clapping saying “Good call referee and he did not swear,” and at that point the referee motioned to have Russell removed from the arena.
“Within seconds there was seven or eight staff next to Russell. So you tell me if this was not staged? In fact thinking back it almost seemed like it was staged. This referee wanted him gone. Through the process of everything that went on Russell was provoked,” he said.
Todd Penny, whose son played on the peewee team, agrees with Kavanagh observations. Penny saws Russell was calm on the bench during Sunday’s game.
“From where I was sitting Russell was not yelling, or screaming at the referee, he did not seem angry it looked as though he was just talking to him,” said Penny.
Penny claims to have seen a referee push Russell towards the exit, while being escorted off the ice.
“It was shameful. If the ref could have gotten away with it, he would have pushed him right off the ice,” said Penny.
Penny said it was other spectators, not Russell, who was cursing and swearing in the stands.
“Keith never opened his mouth, I can say that because when Keith got escorted out of the arena I walked with Keith. There was some mean stuff said to Keith by the tournament organizers. They were saying he was a disgrace as a coach and he should not be allowed to coach,” said Penny.
Premier Dunderdale came out and said she was not going to defend Russell’s actions in the Alvin Parrill Tournament.
“It was inappropriate and it is completely unacceptable and I had a discussion with him about it,” said Premier Dunderdale.
She said that the Association that he is with has taken action in dealing with Russell and she made her view clear to him.
Russell said that the Premier reminded him of his role as a MHA and that no matter where he is and what he is doing he has to remember that.
“Is take responsibility for my words I have to own that, I let the situation take over and I should have taken the high road,” Russell said.
The Labradorian attempted to contact Junior Humphries, president of Labrador West Minor Hockey Association via email. To date, Mr. Humphries has not replied to our request for an interview. Several calls were made to Arnold Kelly with NL Hockey for a response but he too has not responded.