HALIFAX - A minor hockey coach in Halifax is accusing a game official of taunting his team and later attacking a player during a recent game in P.E.I. that went horribly awry, prompting an RCMP investigation.
Mark Whidden, head coach of the Midget C Chebucto Chill, says he and three of his teenaged players have since been suspended indefinitely, pending completion of the Mounties' probe and a subsequent review by Hockey Nova Scotia.
Whidden says that process could take months if not years.
He says that's why he's speaking out.
"These kids might never play hockey," he said in an interview Tuesday. "I think that under the circumstances that's completely unfair."
The RCMP in P.E.I. and Hockey P.E.I. did not respond to requests for comment, but a spokesman for Hockey Nova Scotia, Garreth MacDonald, said he was hopeful a resolution is not too far off.
The Halifax team, which includes players from 15 to 17 years old, was competing in Cornwall, P.E.I., on Feb. 20 when the Chill received what Whidden describes as an inordinate number of penalties in the first period.
One of the two linesmen was standing next to the Halifax team's bench when he made a series of sarcastic comments about the team's play, the coach says.
"The linesman was sort of causing trouble with the kids on the bench," he said, adding that the official appeared to be at least 25 years old.
"The linesman isn't supposed to talk to the kids ... It's not very hard to egg on 16- and 17-year-old boys who are playing a hockey game and have their adrenaline up."
When one player told the linesman to "shut up," Whidden said he knew there would be trouble.
"I could see this linesman with rage in his eyes lunge across the barrier," Whidden said, adding that the official pushed his helmet against the player's face mask and swore.
When the player pushed back, the linesman attacked the player and was immediately struck by a second player and held in a headlock by a third, Whidden said.
"He punched my player in the head and started to throttle him," the coach said.
At that point, Whidden said he told the referee it would be wise to end the game to ensure safety. But the referee insisted he was in control of the game, and he warned Whidden he would be suspended if the team was pulled off the ice.
"There's no way that the game could have gone on with that linesman still on the ice," Whidden said. "Had the game gone on, it would have gotten ugly in every direction."
As some parents walked on the ice to tell their boys to leave the rink, Whidden said he decided the whole team should leave.
After the team returned to Halifax, a parent of one of the players complained to the RCMP, Whidden said.
The coach said his team was losing 4-1 in the closing minutes of the first period when the fracas broke out.
"The problem wasn't with the other team," he says. "The kids on my team aren't angels, but they're not bad kids ... We all know how teenagers act."