I don’t have a lot of pictures from this night, and it’s probably just as well.
After a brief respite in our hotel, we once again rallied ourselves to head out to a nearby facility for our second game of the evening. Several of us had been watching the Sabres game in the coach’s suite (my room). So, we inevitably hit that postgame traffic on our way to the rink. This rink was located along the river at a place called “Buffalo RiverWorks”
The facility itself is a large pavilion that houses 2 full size rinks and ample locker room facilities. Due to the traffic several of us had arrived very close to game time. Luckily for us, the game before us was running over on time, so we had time to get prepared.
Our opponents were not just from our state, one of their players had once played for us, and the team resided in the town that one of our guys grew up in. There was a light-hearted and friendly atmosphere to start the game. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged in a “fancy meeting you here” kind of manner. There was no hint of the storm that was to come.
In the early going it was a pretty close game. At the end of the first period it was 3-2 in favor of them, but we were confident we could play with them. It was easy to lose track of the score and just get caught up in the moment. Here we were, 6 hours from home, playing against people we knew in this amazing out-door complex. The cold night air, was cut by the sound of skates scraping and sticks clashing. And then, in a moment everything changed.
I’m told the play that started it all was a hockey play in any division. In a puck battle in a corner, Ryan made body contact with an opposing player. We play in a “no hitting” league, but this was incidental contact. However, Ryan came away from the hit better off than his adversary did. We later learned that the opposing player had been female. We didn’t think much of it until the retaliatory cheap shots started.
Our opposition had been at this rink for the better part of the whole day, watching and coaching their kids. We had been on the road all morning and had played a game already. By this 10:40pm game, both teams were a mixture of tired, weary and possibly intoxicated. Once the cheap shots began, retaliation was immediate. Slashes and shoves quickly became shoulder checks and helmet punches when the referees were not looking. The penalty sheet began to fill up and the score ceased to matter. Soon there were scrums after almost every stoppage. Players started losing their cool. Threats and foul language flew.
At one point, I lost my cool and broke one of the cardinal rules of respect between coaches and players. After a particularly nasty scrum and hearing an opponent threaten my players I had, had enough. I began shouting at the ice that, “If you want to go, I’ll give you my hotel room number and a personal invitation, otherwise shut the **** up.” At this point, there was no reeling the game back in.
Usually when a game gets out of hand like this, it goes until someone gets hurt and then things calm back down. Josh ended up face down on the ice, in pain, after being thrown awkwardly into the boards. I started to head out to check on him, but seeing me come out, he got up. This brief period of making sure he was ok did not stem the tide of violence. Not long after this, an actual fight occurred with glove dropping. Ryan didn’t even get the chance to get his gloves off and just took to defending himself. He was tossed from the game after the altercation. However, repeat violent offenders of the opposition continued to be allowed back onto the ice. With 5 minutes to go in the third, 2 of my players left the bench for the locker room, unwilling to subject themselves to further physical assault.
I attempted to speak to the referee to try to get them to just start removing players from either team that instigated physical altercations. He was… uncooperative. To quote him directly, “It’s not my job to keep them under control.” At the end of the game, a final scrum erupted. With 3 of my players in the locker room, I only had the 6 guys on the ice and 2 on the bench. Their bench substantially outnumbered us. Had they decided to use their superior numbers against my players in a physical altercation I was prepared to get involved. The scrum threatened to devolve further but was broken up and cooler heads prevailed. I’m thankful they did. Nobody needed to spend a night in jail over a hockey game.
The tournament hosts were not happy with how this game had devolved. I wanted to make my concerns and complaints at that moment, but they were unwilling to entertain any discussion in the immediacy. I don’t blame them. Ultimately they handled everything very professionally and I have nothing but good things to say about them.