A month and a half after the Port aux Basques Mariners were handed 13 games worth of suspensions following a Dec. 1, 10-4 victory over rival Stephenville Jets, team president Shannon Battiste is still upset.
On Monday, Jan. 21 he released an open letter on the team’s Facebook page, along with two video clips, calling into question not only the suspensions themselves, but how the matter was subsequently handled by both the West Coast Senior Hockey League (WCSHL) and Hockey NL (HNL).
While the Jets were handed a total of five games for fighting, the Mariners were deemed the instigating team and received stiffer suspensions.
“The Mariners organization is very disappointed with how this incident was handled and feel that they were unjustly penalized. Thirteen games from one incident with one team is the longest suspension in league history,” wrote Battiste.
Both in the letter and follow-up interview with The Gulf News, Battiste took issue with the decision that the Mariners even fought. He instead maintains that the Jets goaltender slashed a Mariner forward, which triggered the fracas.
“It’s plain to see in the video,” said Battiste. “Everybody came out with their gloves on. There was actually no punches thrown or nothing, you know what I mean? Why it was wrote up for as fights and everything – I don’t know why that was done.”
Battiste believes that referees could have regained control of the game merely by issuing two-minute minor penalties and 10-minute game misconducts to the offending players. He points to a recent game between the Stephenville Jets and the Corner Brook Royals on Jan. 11 that resulted in 156 penalty minutes but no suspensions.
“There was several fights. There was fellows (who) left benches engaged in fights, and they was all handed out twos and tens, no fights handed out,” says Battiste, who believes the Mariners and Jets game should have received a similar punishment.
“That’s the call of officials that we put on the ice,” said Gary Gale, HNL chair Senior Hockey, who stands by the referees. “It wasn’t the officials that caused the multiple fights. It was the players and the teams on the ice and they have to take responsibility for what they do.”
Out of the 13 games worth of suspensions, six alone were issued to Mariners forward Rob Parsons. Since the WCSHL runs on a 12-game schedule, that represents half a season.
“We’re ruled under a senior supplement rule,” explained Battiste. “Senior supplement is ruled under a 24-game season.”
That’s not entirely correct though.
“It’s not based on 24 games. It’s based on what we call a regular season. Now it could be 24. I think last year we had 18,” noted WCSHL president Wayne Hounsell via phone interview on Friday, Jan. 18.
In its appeal letter to HNL, the Mariners organization called for all its player suspensions to be lifted, deeming it “aggravated punitive discipline.”
“Having only a 12-game regular season schedule for the WCSHL, the suspensions as issued will amount to three Mariner players serving suspensions that represent 25 per cent – 50 per cent of the regular season,” it was stated in the appeal.
According to Battiste’s open letter, HNL’s response was to state that the suspensions were non-appealable as they were classified as the minimum. Meanwhile, the Stephenville Jets suspensions had been reversed after one game served, and on Jan. 3 the WCSHL also sent a letter to HNL asking that the Mariners suspensions be reduced or lifted, agreeing with the Mariners that the punishment was severe.
“That’s why we argued, if you’re going to punish someone this amount, it’s typically done in a larger season,” said Hounsell.
“It doesn’t matter. Rules are the rules. It doesn’t matter if you’re only going to play 10 games,” maintains Gale. “We don’t make decisions in reference to suspensions based on the length of the season. It’s based on what happens on the ice.”
Nevertheless, on Jan. 11 a meeting of members of the HNL, WCSHL, including the Jets and the Royals, met to discuss the suspensions once more. According to Battiste’s letter, representatives from the Mariners were neither informed of, nor invited to, this meeting.
According to Hounsell, by then the Port aux Basques position was already well known to all attendees.
“The only reason for that meeting was to check with the other two teams and see if they were on side and they were,” said Hounsell. “It’s important that when you make a change it’s for the good of the league.”
As a result of that meeting, the Mariners suspensions were lifted, but by the time the ruling was handed down the players had already served 11 of their 13 games.
At this point, Battiste would just like some clarification on how things unfolded, and in particular why it took so long for the Mariners suspensions to be lifted.
“We do a fairly quick turnaround and we did in this situation,” said Gale. “Suspensions were handed out in a relatively short period of time.”
Gale feels Port aux Basques, as the instigating team in a game with multiple fights, were assessed penalties in keeping with the guidelines of the senior supplement which is dictated by Hockey Canada.
“Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador spent an incredible amount of time on this,” says Gale, who maintains that the six-game suspension of Rob Parsons was in keeping with the guidelines. “We were in no hurry to make a decision as it related to Mr. Parsons,” he said. “We had extensive discussions on this in reference to senior council, as well as with the president of Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador and our executive director. Eventually the decision was that we would reduce that suspension to four games.”
Gale says he received inquiries from several members of the Mariners organization about the Parsons suspension. He eventually made it clear he would only deal with the team’s official representative, and that there are protocols in place for these situations.
“This was a decision that had to be made by senior council of Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador as well as the executive committee of Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador, of which Jack Lee is the president,” Gale explained. “Jack Lee had to approve this reduction.”
Even if the matter had been completely resolved immediately afterwards, Parsons would still have been suspended.
“I’ll make that quite clear to you. He was not getting less than four games, and he’s lucky really to get away with four games,” said Gale. “Port aux Basques needs to take responsibility in terms of what they do.
“As a matter of fact, if this is how they want to play the game, they’ll have to live by the rules, and the rules will be strictly followed by Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Battiste is also having trouble understanding why the Mariners – Jets game even resulted in suspensions, while the Jets – Royals game did not. He hopes to see more consistency in the officiating.
“Consistency is not the problem,” insists Gale, who says teams must look at themselves first before questioning the officiating. “These fights, if there’s consistency, if there appears to be some consistency in terms of what’s going on, I think it relates to the probability as it relates to fight in the West Coast Senior Hockey League which we rarely have in Central or in East.”
“That’s what we’re working on is consistency with the teams, then consistency with the refereeing,” said Hounsell. “We’re growing, and we attempt to do better each and every time.”
Hounsell says the officiating is reviewed regularly, but notes the league is still young and only in its second full year. He noted growing pains are to be expected.
“The same thing with the teams. We want to try to improve, I guess, the skill level and the performance to try to show the world that Western Newfoundland has got good hockey, so we’re doing that all the time,” he said.
Hounsell is optimistic the league will continue to grow and flourish, pointing out that fundraising is already underway to relaunch the Deer Lake Red Wings.
“We went from four (teams) to three, and I’d like for us to go back to four or five,” he said.
Whatever the league’s future, Battiste hopes for better clarity moving forward.
“The thing for me is communication,” he said.
“If there’s a problem here in terms of communication, it’s on the part of the Port aux Basques organization,” counters Gale.