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Rink rage reducing ref ranks in Jasper

by Evan Matthews |

Coaches’ abuse of officials has become a concern for Jasper parents and the town’s head official, as young referees have been less inclined to work games after a series of incidents at minor hockey tournaments.

Though Jasper’s top minor hockey ref Glen Leitch says the Jasper reffing program’s numbers have never been stronger, he’s now having difficulty getting younger refs to take games due to adults exhibiting abusive behaviour.

Of 10 youth referees certified, Leitch says eight of them aren’t willing to ref games anymore. They’ll act as linesmen, but they aren’t willing to ref, he says.

Two separate incidents in January involved a coach verbally abusing a referee to varying degrees.

The more serious incident took place at an Atom (nine and 10 year old) tournament and another was a relatively minor incident at a Peewee (11 and 12 year old) tournament, according to Leitch.

‘I thought they were going to get in a fistfight’

During a Jan. 19-22 girls Atom tournament at the Jasper Activity Centre, the North Saskatchewan Fury played in the A-side Final against the Lakeland Jaguars. The Fury took the contest 6-2, winning the tournament.

Much of the verbal abuse came from the losing side, according to the game’s head ref Jacob Bartziokas, 13, but both coaches had crossed the line by the game’s conclusion.

“On that day (Lakeland) was losing… The coach was being a poor sport, and wasn’t very good to deal with,” says Bartziokas. “It’s not like I was making bad calls, missing calls, nothing like that. He had no reason to treat me the way he did.”

Witnesses including Leitch, who acted as one of the game’s linesmen, arena manager Peter Bridge and Bartziokas, described the afternoon’s events.

They all said the coaches’ abuse toward Bartziokas started very early in the game. A Municipality of Jasper incident report written by Bridge states the “swearing coming out of (the coaches’) mouths was heard all through the rink.”

Leitch, 63, has been refereeing for 19 years. He said that coach was yelling at Barziokas, a second-year referee, within three minutes of the puck drop in the first.

“Jacob had the bravery to make a call, and that’s what we teach them,” Leitch said. “Our job is to keep it safe and keep it fair. Everything else should fall into place. Jacob was doing a fine job.”

Bartziokas said the abuse progressively got worse throughout the game.

As the game approached the end of the third period, Bridge’s incident report says the coaches from both sides were “yelling and screaming at one another,” using excessive profanity in front of the young girls.

One of the Lakeland coaches climbed up onto the glass, attempting to move toward the other team’s bench while yelling at the top of his lungs, according to the incident report.

“I thought they were going to get into a fistfight,” Bridge wrote in his report.

Parents and coaches had yelled at officials before in games Bartziokas has refereed, but he says nothing has ever come close to what he experienced during that Atom final.

Bridge’s report echoed Bartziokas, saying it was “one of worst displays of poor judgment and inappropriate (behaviour) from coaches” he had seen in 26 years of managing the arena.

“I was at the players benches and noticed there were several players — little girls — crying out on the ice. They were scared, and I’m sure some of them will be scarred for life from this experience,” says Bridge in his report. “The coaches involved should be banned from coaching. I hope hockey Alberta comes down hard on them.”

Cold Lake Minor Hockey president Teresa Dole issued a statement to the Bartziokas family.

“It is clear that the situation was extreme and the tensions were felt on both benches, she wrote. “We have addressed the proper protocol to follow if player safety is a concern in the future. We have accepted his apology to the team and the officials as his acknowledgment of his poor behaviour and actions… Should we receive any future complaints of abuse of officials, disciplinary actions will be taken immediately.”

North Saskatchewan Minor Hockey did not respond to the Bartziokas family’s submission, according to Jacob’s parents John and Krista.

Coaches from both teams, Christopher Hiebert from Lakeland and Ken Anderson from North Saskatchewan, sent apology letters to Jacob, commending him for his professionalism.

“It was a little bit scary. They’re both fully grown men,” says Bartziokas. “But this isn’t going to change my view on reffing. This isn’t going to make me stop. I love to ref. I love hockey.”

Fleury weighs in

Theoren “Theo” Fleury was a superstar for the Calgary Flames in the 1980s and 90s. Now he’s an outspoken advocate against abuse in the game of hockey.

“Verbal abuse of an official is the same as sexual abuse or emotional abuse… it doesn’t matter,” says Fleury. “There is no place in the game for any of it.”

Fleury, a Stanley Cup (1989) and Olympic (2002) champion, racked up 455 goals and 633 helpers in 1,084 NHL games, good for 63rd on the league’s all-time scoring list. At press deadline, he still had three more points than Sidney Crosby, who has played just shy of 840 games.

The end of Fleury’s playing career came in 2003, when the alcohol abuse spawned by the abuse he suffered left no room for anything else. When he hung them up, Fleury had played for the Rangers, Avalanche and Blackhawks in addition to the Flames.

Fleury’s 2009 book Playing with Fire delves into his difficult past and his experience as a sexual abuse survivor. He was abused during his junior hockey days.

Since his playing days in the NHL, Fleury has become an advocate against sexual abuse and abuse in the game of hockey, as well as openly discussing alcohol abuse and his own sobriety journey.

After hearing the Municipality of Jasper’s incident report read aloud, Fleury told the Fitzhugh minor hockey should be about the kids and nothing else.

“We put our kids in sports to learn morals and values they can carry with them for the rest of their lives,” he said. “The first one is respect. If the first thing we’re teaching our kids is to learn about respect, but then we see the adults disrespecting the referees, each other, or the game… They think they can do it, too.”

Young people play the game, young people ref the game, he said. The kids should be the only ones at the rink acting like children.

“It baffles me when I hear stuff like this,” he said. “You just want to say to everyone involved in yelling at the kids, ‘Go find a psychologist and work out your anger issues. Don’t bring them here.’ There is always a reason for somebody’s behaviour, and it’s usually a learned behaviour. Is this what the type of behaviour the coaches want for themselves? What are they teaching the kids?”

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