Volume 94, Issue 44
Thursday, November 16, 2000
OHL gets tough on Knights
Warning the London Knights that they were skating on thin ice was obviously not enough to steer them clear from entering the penalty box.
When Ontario Hockey Leauge commisioner David Branch, issued a second ruling against the London Knights last week putting co-owner and director of hockey operations of the Junior A team, Mark Hunter, under suspension for the remainder of the regular season, it set off a list of implications the Knights will now have to seriously ponder.
Hunter was barred from coaching hockey for a full year and fined $10,000 in one of the most hard-edged and questionable rulings in the league's history.
As a result of the ruling, Hunter is unable to speak with his players until Mar. 23, 2001 or enter the Ice House the arena he also has financial stakes in.
The inquiry and rulings came as a result of an order Hunter gave to a player to fight a Guelph Storm player during an Oct. 25 game at the Ice House.
Since the penalties were issued in the first week of November, Branch has decided he will allow Hunter into the Ice House so he can carry out his duties as general manager but he is still not allowed to have any contact with his players.
In essence, this means he will be unable to carry out the duties his position as director of hockey operations entitles. No person would be able to get a true sense of his team if he were allowed no contact with them. And what about trades? What about providing an outlet through which players can voice their concern? Their problems? Is this going to signify a major breakdown in the communication of the London Knights administration in a year that is vital to future team development?
This season the Knights find themselves in the middle of yet another rebuilding year, after bowing out of a playoff run last season meaning if this year is not going to be the one and it's not looking pretty so far next year could be. Or even the year after that. But the point is that if Hunter, who has a deeply entrenched and integral role with the team, cannot take part in acquiring the right balance of players to strengthen the Knights. Branch's ruling will have a deeper impact than what was perhaps originally intended.
It is not that Hunter should have been awarded merely a slap on the wrist nor is it the case that he should go unpunished, but one has to ask the question: Would Hunter have been punished for this if all everyone saw that night was two players getting out their frustrations? Of course not.
Branch's ruling is a blatant attempt to make the OHL look good. Fighting in hockey has been a given since the dawn of time. So why punish a coach now for telling his players to get a little physical? The league undoubtedly thinks it good policy to enforce something along the lines of untainted moral values in light of the kids they are hoping to groom for the future after all, the league's 20 teams wouldn't be so bountiful if parents stopped letting their kids play hockey.
If leagues are going to set precedents for punishing coaches for getting their teams to fight, they consent to walking the fine line of what constitutes punishment withing a sport and outside the rink formal legal action.
Copyright © The Gazette 2000