The Carillon - ONLINE EDITION
By: Terry Frey
Posted: 01/21/2018 10:38 AM
When someone’s life is threatened, it must be taken seriously, regardless of the circumstances.
And when it involves a minor hockey coach threatening the lives of two young referees such as what happened in Ste Anne in late November, it just magnifies and exacerbates the situation.
The Eastman Minor Hockey Association (EMHA) have levelled a lifetime ban on a minor coach from Sagkeeng following the incident in a game between the atom age teams Nov. 25 at Ste. Anne.
Not only was Kyle Fontaine issued a lifetime ban by the EMHA, which followed a five-game suspension by Hockey Manitoba, he faces charges of uttering threats and made his first appearance in court in Steinbach last week. He is slated to return to court in Steinbach on Feb. 15.
Neal Stoesz, who has been involved in hockey for more than 40 years, including as a longtime standout goaltender both for the La Broquerie Habs and Ste Anne Aces in senior hockey, is the president of the Ste. Anne Minor Hockey Association and was the coach of the Ste Anne team in that game against Sagkeeng.
Stoesz says he is very unhappy with Hockey Manitoba and their five-game suspension of Fontaine, which he termed inadequate, partly for the message it sends that the referees are not being adequately protected by Hockey Manitoba. But in turn, he is pleased with the response taken by the EMHA and the subsequent lifetime suspension.
What occurred that day is something he has never seen before and says he was shocked by what unfolded in the game.
Saying he was unhappy with some of the calls or lack of calls by the referees, an increasingly agitated Fontaine ultimately threatened to cut off the heads of the two young referees, ages 18 & 19.
"And this all happened in front of nine and 10-year-old kids," said Stoesz.
After being ejected from the game and being escorted away from bench, the tirade and threats continued causing some parents to step in and the police were called.
"We need to protect our referees from abuse, Hockey Manitoba has let us down with their decision, this was a prime example of these referees needing our protection."
"I had kids on my team that were scared and were worried he would come to our bench," said Stoesz.
"These young referees were terrified and needed to be escorted to their dressing room after the game and have another adult stay with them" noted Stoesz. "They also had to wait until everyone had left and the police arrived to escort them to their vehicles."
Furthermore, Stoesz said, "Hockey Manitoba has communicated very clearly that we need to protect our officials as more and more of them are quitting due to the abuse from coaches and parents. We need to ensure that coaches who behave like this are not allowed to coach children at any level."
Stoesz said if that would have been one of their coaches from Ste. Anne Minor Hockey, "we would have banned him regardless of what Hockey Manitoba’s decision was. We have a code of conduct that we all sign and ensure that is followed properly. This incident is beyond what any code of conduct can cover and when police charges are pending that should warrant a severe discipline, sending a strong message to everyone that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated at any time at any level of hockey."
Meanwhile, in an email to Stoesz and the Ste. Anne Minor Hockey Association, Hockey Manitoba Executive Director Peter Woods, said this after Stoesz conveyed his displeasure in their decision. "It is possible that Hockey Manitoba may have got this decision wrong, however I do know that Mr. Fontaine was remorseful and sincerely apologized to both officials regarding his behaviour which does not excuse, nor provide a pass but may serve to restore the necessary level of trust and respect between game officials and some members."
The Eastman Minor Hockey Association met in mid-December and it was then that they made the decision to issue a lifetime suspension to Fontaine which basically will prevent Fontaine from being on an Eastman Minor Hockey sanctioned roster.
In their letter to Fontaine and the Sagkeeng Minor Hockey Association, the EMHA said, "Eastman Minor Hockey has reviewed the incident reports and has concluded that further action is necessary in conjunction with the suspension by Hockey Manitoba and the board has voted in favour of a lifetime suspension. This decision was not made without careful consideration of the impact this decision had on our game officials, coaches, the integrity of our programs and most importantly our young players."
Harvey Nichol, Director of Officiating for Hockey Manitoba, said although he could not comment on the five-game suspension issued by Hockey Manitoba, he supports the additional sanctions as laid out by the EMHA. "I totally support our referees, these things should never happen, they deserve our support."
"I thought those days were over, said Nichol, "we used to see incidents in the 80’s and 90’s but in the last 15 years things have been cleaned up. I think a lifetime suspension sends a strong message."
Stoesz says other minor hockey associations from the area, such as Lorette and Springfield, among others, have voiced their support to Ste Anne Minor Hockey in dealing with this serious incident.
In the meantime, the hockey season goes on as the regular season winds up and playoffs loom. In fact Ste Anne will host the Hockey Manitoba Provincial Rural Atom ‘A’ Championships, Mar. 9-11, and these same Atom ‘A’ Aces, coached by Stoesz, will be competing.
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