‘Kids were traumatized’: N.S. minor hockey coach charged for allegedly punching referee

A minor hockey coach in Nova Scotia has been charged with assault after an on-ice incident during a game this weekend in front of players and fans.

“These kids were traumatized. Walking out of the rink, there were tears, fear in the faces of the kids,” said Melissa Johnson, who witnessed the event.

“It was heartbreaking,”

Johnson, as well as some others who witnessed the incident, have posted about it on social media.

The morning game on Saturday at the Don Henderson Memorial Sportsplex in Brookfield, N.S., was a U11 game — meaning the players were aged nine and 10.

Johnson said she was in the rink at the time waiting for her own son’s game to start. In the meantime, she caught the game between the Cumberland Ramblers (Cumberland County Minor Hockey Association) and the Brookfield Elks (South Colchester Minor Hockey Association).

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She said during the second period, there was a hit that resulted in a five-minute major penalty. At one point, a cowbell was thrown onto the ice, and she said she saw the referee toss the cowbell toward the South Colchester bench.

“Unfortunately, it hit the coach who took it upon himself to walk over to the (Cumberland County) bench (…) and grabbed the ref and started punching him,” she said.

Johnson said the referee was punched on the helmet.

Johnson said at this point, a spectator came down off the bleachers and allegedly attacked the referee as well, which left the young hockey players on the team “trapped inside their bench” and “in tears, hysterical about everything that had happened.”

“We had parents climbing over the ice, over the glass, over the railings, everything in order to ensure that the fight was stopped and then trying to get these kids to safety into their dressing rooms,” she said.

Vanessa Craven, whose son plays for Cumberland County, said she rushed down to the team’s bench in the commotion to help comfort the players.

“I went and I stood with our kids on the bench who were all huddled into the back corner crying and very upset. And so I worked at calming them all down and bringing their focus to the fact that everything was going to be okay,” she said.

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Coach facing assault charges

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Chris Marshall said police were called to the rink Saturday morning, but the coach had left the arena by the time officers arrived.

“When our officers arrived, they learned that a coach basically assaulted an official on the ice during a game that occurred earlier that morning. Thankfully, the official wasn’t injured,” he said.

“The coach had already left the facility prior to the arrival of our members. So we reached out to him and he agreed to turn himself to the Stewiacke RCMP detachment.”

Marshall said the man was released on conditions and has been charged with assault.

In a statement posted on its website Sunday, the Board of Directors for South Colchester Minor Hockey Association called it a “tough day.”

“We appreciate all of our caring coaches, dedicated referees, and supportive parents, who make hockey such a positive experience for our players,” the statement read in part.

“We are still the same association, with the same genuine heart and dedication to do what is best for our kids.”

The Board said it was working with “all the appropriate organizations as we are directed” and encouraged anyone who needed support to reach out.

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Coach suspended indefinitely

Hockey Nova Scotia confirmed the coach involved has been suspended “indefinitely” pending the outcomes of the RCMP investigation and a review by Hockey Canada’s Independent Third Party process.

In a statement, Hockey Nova Scotia said counselling was being offered to the players and parents of both teams who were involved in the game, as well as the officials.

Craven, whose son was on the Cumberland County’s bench, said the counselling was helpful and appreciated.

“It’s something that you would never expect to see at a child’s game. It’s something you should never see at a child’s game,” she said.

“I wouldn’t even expect to see those type of actions at an adult game.”

RCMP said responding to calls about violence at sports games isn’t rare, and Cpl. Marshall advised everyone to be levelheaded and not to resort to violence.

“Every year, there are instances that occur in sports games and not just hockey — all kinds of sports games,” Marshall said.

“We get it that people get a little upset and a little a little bothered sometimes if there’s a call that doesn’t go their way. But, there’s certainly other other means and other ways to voice their displeasure.”

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— with files from Global News’ Callum Smith

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