This is a special feature on After The Whistle that addresses a very real concern among coaches of minor hockey. We would like your comments on this issue. To see what others have said about this article, click here.
Tim Gmeinweser, coach of the Knights of Columbus Sabres Bantams is being considered a hero by some. He is also being condemned by others. His 'heroic' actions may have resulted in his suspension for the balance of the year. The Sabres are based in Edmonton.

While playing in a tournament during the Christmas holidays, Gmeinweser found his team down 7 to 1 in the second period of a game against a team from New Sarepta. Several of his players had been injured and he feared for the safety of the rest of his players. 

In his opinion, even though the game was becoming increasingly violent and out of control, leading to mounting injuries,  the referee was not calling enough penalties to curb the violence. 

The outcome of the game was no longer in question since it was obvious that New Sarepta was the superior team and was giving his Sabres a severe beating. Near the end of he second period, Gmeinweser decided to order his team to the dressing room and refuse to continue.

The Canadian Hockey Association makes it clear that Gmeinweser may be suspended for a year or longer for his decision during that game. The key to this is the word "may". This means that he might not receive any suspension if his local association so chooses.

This raises an interesting issue - one which most coaches have faced at one time or another. 

We have all been in games which have been allowed to get "out of control". 

At the bantam and midget levels and beyond, this can happen as a result of a single play and be totally unexpected. In these situations, even the top referee in the world wouldn't have made a difference. However, there are other situations where a referee decides to "let the kids play" and allows a lot of rough activity to take place. When this happens the players tend to go overboard with the checking, slashing, elbowing and roughing. 
There are also situations, such as in tournaments, where you find yourself up against a strange team which is way above your calibre. 

For example, it was pointed out that the Sabres are a Tier 5 or 6 level club. They play in a seven tier system with Tier 1 being the highest calibre. The New Sarepta club had asked to be entered into the lowest calibre possible in the tournament and were thus placed in a division with the Sabres. Obviously, with such a difference in the score, something was wrong.

Since you have no idea what the other teams are like when you enter the tournament, you could easily find yourself like the Sabres - down 7 to 1 and being injured by a physically stronger team which is being allowed to run roughshod over your club. In defense of the referee, it is also possible that the stronger team is not doing anything illegal, but merely causing injuries because they are that much stronger than their opponents.

So what can you do when you find yourself in such a game? Just cross your fingers and hope that the kids escape with as few injuries as possible? Yell at the referee to call more penalties? If you pick up penalties and have to play short-handed your players will be in even more jeopardy.

There Are Only A Few Options Left To The Coach and The Parents When You Run Into a Similar Problem

by Robert Kirwan
Publisher of After The Whistle


Unfortunately, there is not much a coach can do once the game has begun. I personally found myself in such a game in the early 1990's. Our minor peewee team was playing in the championship game of a tournament against a team which was from a smaller community but which consisted of mostly major peewee aged players. They were allowed into the tournament because the organizers needed another team and they were from a neighbouring community.  

The arena was filled to capacity with spectators. During the 2nd period our team was being "hammered", both in terms of the score and physically. The older, bigger players were taking liberty with the fact that the referee, who was local and went to school with them, was too young to be doing the game in the first place and was not very self-confident in front of the large crowd that was enjoying the massacre. 

My captain was slammed into the boards and said something to the referee who quickly gave him a misconduct. Three of my players were injured and taken to the dressing room, and since I had started the game short a couple of players to begin with I was in real trouble. The parents of the players on the team were very upset that nothing was being done to penalize the rough play and were absolutely terrified about the dangerous situation their children were in. I did not want to risk a suspension for the remainder of the year, but I too was very concerned about the safety of the players since my son was one of them.

Then, when I was down to only seven skaters, the captain of the opposing team was skating in on a one-on-one against my lone defenseman. He was skating at a full head of steam and as he approached the defenseman, and instead of moving to the left or right to get around, he went straight forward and jumped on top of my player's back, bending him in half and landing heavily on top causing another injury. The player got up laughing and watched as his team mate picked up the puck and scored yet another goal. 

I then told one of my remaining players  to go out on the ice and when they lined up for the face off to push the player beside him.  The referee saw this and called a two-minute roughing penalty. When they lined up again, I told another player to do the same thing and once again the referee gave a two-minute penalty. This happened again two more times. A more experienced referee may have noticed what was happening, but as I said, this one was not qualified for a championship game of this calibre. Now I had my captain and four of my players in the penalty box with minor penalties for roughing. The referee laughed at me when he brought the final two to the box. 

When they lined up for the face-off, I only had two skaters on the ice. The referee motioned for me to send another person on the ice, but the only player left was my defenseman who was injured on the previous play. The game had to be stopped because I had run out of players.

Needless to say I faced a lot of heat from the tournament organizer who wrote up a long report about my terrible behaviour.  They realized what had happened but there was nothing that they could accuse me of in the rule book. We had run out of players and could not continue. There is no penalty for running out of players and the referee could not cancel out any penalty after it was given and announced. My players were safe and they received the silver medal, but I was not happy at what I was forced to do. It still leaves me with a bad taste when I recall the game.

Another possible solution when involved in a game such as this is for the parents to pull their children off the ice and out of the game. There is not much a coach can do if a parent comes along and takes her child off the bench. The coach can remain to continue the game, but once again, if he doesn't have enough players the game will have to be forfeited.

The CHA rule also states that the players of  the team could be suspended for one year or more for refusing to play the game. However, it is highly unlikely that any association would take that action and risk the potential political fall-out if a parent was the one who took the child away. For example, how could you determine whether or not the parent was concerned about a previous injury which might be aggravated by playing the contest?

It is suggested here that the best way to prevent this type of thing from happening is for coaches, parents, fans and players to change their attitude towards penalties. I have been at many games at the bantam and midget levels where the parents have been very vocal when penalties have been called. Shouts of, "Let them play the game" and "We didn't come here to see you call penalties" and "There is body-checking at this level" are heard all the time. Referees soon find that it is much easier to please everyone in the arena by  "letting a lot go"  than to call it "by the book". 

This is not a comment on how the rules should be applied. We all know that "all" infractions should be called regardless of the level or the game situation. However, when you ask coaches, they will usually say that they would rather see no penalties called than have a lot of penalties called. As they often say, penalties affect the "flow of the game".

We have to encourage referees at all levels to "use the book". And hockey associations must back up the referees who have the courage to call the game the way it should be called. Just because the players are older and stronger is no reason to allow them to get away with infractions which would have been called at younger levels - yet it happens all the time.

It looks as if Gmeinweser will be suspended for the rest of the year. It is also quite likely that there are other coaches who will be taking similar action during the year when they come up against the same type of situation. We very seldom hear about coaches stopping play because the vast majority of games never get that much out of control. Referees for the most part do an excellent job of managing the safety factor. However, it does happen, and it may happen more often in the future.

SPECIAL NOTE: Tim Gmeinweser appealed to Hockey Alberta to have his suspension overturned. His appeal was denied and he will remain suspended for the remainder of the season.
To: After The Whistle, CHA
From: Tim Gmeinweser
Date: Feb. 9, 2003

My name is Tim Gmeinweser. I have been suspended from coaching my Bantam hockey team for pulling my team off the ice during a Christmas tournament game. You may have heard about my situation. I had a hearing at the EMHA office and was suspended for the rest of the year. I appealed the decision, with the backing from my association, the Knights of Columbus, with Alberta Hockey Assoc. They upheld the suspension.

I pulled my team off the ice due to safety concerns. The game was turning violent. The parentís were getting upset. I had four injured players. The young official did nothing and did not respond to my calls for a conference with him. After I had parents coming down to the bench and asked me what I was going to do about this, I pulled my team. What concerns me the most about the EMHA hearing and the following appeal is the committee did not acknowledge our injured players but rather they seemed to focus on the point that I was unhappy with the officiating. I was unhappy, because the lack of penalties called, resulted in the game getting out of control and players were getting hurt. It appears to me that the two governing bodies of the EMHA and AHA do not have the best interest of the kids at heart, instead they were more intent of teaching a volunteer coach a lesson for breaking a rule. I sat through the EMHA hearing, listening to one of the judicial committee members refer to our situation as garbage. During the appeal with AHA I had to listen to a committee member call our parents names. If this is what minor hockey has come to I do not want to be part of it.

I am thankful for the support I received from every parent of my team. They wrote letters of support that were included in the appeal package. In the end, I did as the parents wanted. It should not matter what the other team says or does, which the appeal committee seemed to take at face value. The point is the parents from my team agreed with my position and my decision, they didnít want to see their kids seriously hurt, in what is just a game.

As a volunteer coach I have taking all sorts of courses dealing with childrenís safety. As a coach I am responsible for these kids whenever  they are involved in a hockey activity with the team. However, as I have realized, I apparently am not responsible during a game situation, this doesnít make sense. A coaches responsibility should not end in a game situation and be relinquished to a young official. If I was to let a young man run a practice and one of my players got hurt I would be negligent. How does the game situation change this?  I was told I broke a rule and therefore I should be punished. The only people being punished here are the children playing on my team,  they do not have a coach. As stated, I have the support of the parents and that is the most important factor because at the end of the day they are who I have to answer to. A rule should not be more important than the childrenís safety which I have found out IS.

Tim Gmeinweser


Publisher's Comment:

First of all, I would like to thank Tim Gmeinweser for providing us with this letter. It gives our readers insight into the situation and also clears up any misunderstandings as to why the action was taken.

The safety of players is a real concern for all people involved in a hockey game. Coaches, officials, convenors, the players themselves, and most of all, parents are concerned about safe play.  However, once the contest begins, the rules of the game do not seem to provide a reasonable way for a coach to make a judgement call with respect to the safety of his players. This is obviously a serious issue. The question that it begs is, "Can a coach be found negligent in a court of law for failing to protect his players if it is proven that the safety of his players was in jeopardy?"

On the other hand, if players are seriously injured in a game, and the referee must defend his handling of the contest, can a judge rule that the referee was negligent in his duties to enforce the rules? Or will the judge rule that both the coach and the referee were equally negligent? 

Another thing to consider is whether players are left completely on their own during the course of a game with respect to safety. If their safety is in jeopardy, and if the coach and the referee both fail to do anything to remove players from this inherent danger, is the responsibility then shifted to the player to remove himself from the game and leave the ice surface? If so, at what age can a player be expected to take on this responsibility from his coach? What is the age of reason in hockey? When does a player have the ability to realize he is in a dangerous situation?

We are not blaming the other team in this case. The other team may have been physically more dominant. The rules do not penalize a player for being stronger than his opponents. But if you find yourself completely "out of your league" and completely over matched, what can you do? If you know your players are in jeopardy, and if you do nothing, are you not being negligent? If the reason you do nothing is because you do not want to be suspended from the league for the rest of the year, is that rule going to protect you from a verdict of negligence if a player is seriously injured? 

These are questions which must be addressed. Safety of players is not a small responsibility. It is huge! It cannot be taken lightly. In the meantime, with the rules as they are, the only advice that makes any sense must be given to referees. In order to protect yourself from possible charges of negligence, use the the rule book. When in doubt, penalize. If a player argues, give him a ten minute misconduct. If a coach complains, explain that it is for his own good and then give him a game misconduct. Give out enough penalties and the game will have to be called anyway because of a lack of players. 

I'm not sure if this is the answer, but until the responsibility for the safety of the players is clearly defined, and unless it is shared by all parties, the referee is the only one legally in control according to the rule book. It's no longer worth the risk to "let the kids play the game" if the game is going to get violent and there is a question of safety. It won't make for very exciting games, but it will sure allow the referee to sleep well at night and to prove that they did everything possible to maintain a safe environment on the ice.

After The Whistle would like to hear you comments on this matter.

Robert Kirwan
Publisher - After The Whistle 

Sheldon Craigen has a son who plays goal on a midget team in the Millwoods SEERA Hockey association. He sent a comment to After The Whistle which raised a very interesting point. While he takes issue with the referee who handled all three games in which his son's team played during a recent tournament, his comments should not be seen as a criticism of the particular referee, but rather as an indication of a much larger problem which is facing minor hockey today. I would like to repeat his comment here for discussion purposes.
I am the parent of a Midget Goaltender who participated in a Christmas tournament in New Sarepta. We had the same referee for three games. He was consistently bad for all three games. I hope it was not the same  referee who was involved in the bantam tournament. If by chance it was then that referee should be suspended forever. He was not consistent in calling the play for either team and let our games get out of hand. We won the first game and lost the last two. In the last game one of our players was slashed with a two handed slash that broke his wrist. No penalty! My son was repeatedly run by the other team and when he said something to the referee , the referee , told him to keep his head up. After about the 7 time my son lost his cool and fought back He slashed the offending player with his goal stick, the referee did not see it no penalty was called, the slashed player jumped my son from behind. My son wrestled himself on top of the other player and started to punch him. This resulted in a match penalty because my son had never been in a fight before and did not know enough to remove his gloves in a fight. He received a three game suspension from the Millwoods SEERA Hockey association. He did deserve this and has served his suspension. If the refereeing had not been so bad I feel that this horrible incident would not have happened. I strongly feel the coach should have questioned the tournament organizer about being given the same referee for all three games in a tournament and requested an alternate for the third game. At the start of the game I said out loud to a parent beside me " I wonder if the referee is going to take up where he left off in the last game?" The referee heard me and looked right at us and said "yes". I fight hard to keep from be-littling the referees as I referee seniors and I know how hard it is . If I was as incompetent as this one was I would hang up my skates.



Editorial By: Robert Kirwan


Hockey tournaments have become extremely popular in the last ten or fifteen years. It is not uncommon for teams - whether they are house league or rep clubs - to take part in as many as five, six or more tournaments each season. These tournaments are usually held from Friday to Sunday and guarantee each team a minimum of three games. A good team may get as many as six games on a weekend if they get to the championship game.

Say what you want - tournaments are used as a way for hockey associations to raise money. Many years ago, someone got the bright idea that if you gathered a lot of teams together for a "compressed competition"; charged a high entry fee for the teams; sell tickets to parents who came to the games to watch their children; operated a concession with a licensed bar; and sold advertising in programs, you could make a lot of money and keep the local registration fees from rising too high. 


Eventually, all hockey associations got wind of this and we now have what I will call the "raffle-ticket phenomenon" in minor hockey. By this, I mean that it is almost expected that if a team comes to your tournament, you should be going to theirs. For example, if someone sells you a raffle ticket, you expect them to buy one from you when it is your turn to sell. I also see this phenomenon being used with respect to 50-50 draws. Many minor hockey teams designate a parent to sell 50-50 tickets to fans as a way to raise money. So, if you buy tickets when you visit another arena, you expect those people to buy tickets when they come to your arena.


Hockey tournaments have now gotten out of hand. It is becoming increasingly expensive to run tournaments, so games are shortened, entry fees are increased and admission prices have sky-rocketed. Furthermore, municipalities have found that they can make more money renting out ice during tournaments than they can during regular weekends, so they schedule as many as they possibly can during the season. Coaches sometimes have to go to tournaments just so that their team can keep active. And many of them are out of town.


Whenever you go to a hockey tournament, you are risking disaster as a coach. 

First of all, parents would like to play different teams when they go to a tournament. However, when you play different teams from different associations, you have no idea of the calibre of their clubs. The situation is worse in house league and lower tier levels. Once you get to the AAA level, you find the competition pretty much even.

Another thing you often find when you go to a tournament is that the style of officiating is not what you are accustomed to. Sure, we will always say that the rule book is the same regardless of where you play, but the reality is that the supervisor of officials has a lot to do with the consistency of his or her referees. On top of this, it is extremely difficult to find officials who have time to do games during the day at tournaments - especially if they are held on weekdays. Therefore, you can sometimes find inexperienced referees on the ice in situations which will be hard to handle merely because they were the only ones available.


Tournament organizers also try to squeeze in as many games as possible. This leads to another problem when it comes to officiating. It is not uncommon to find referees doing up to 20 games during a weekend tournament. Not only is this tiring, but it is also extremely difficult to keep sharp and on top of your game as an official when you are on the ice for three or four intense games in a row. And yet, it is often hard to avoid this type of scheduling simply because we don't have enough referees.

The fact that Mr. Craigen's son had the same referee for all three of his games is not surprising. While it doesn't happen often, it is possible. Referees must be scheduled prior to the beginning of a tournament. They have a life too and cannot all be sitting around the entire weekend not knowing when they will be going on the ice. So when the game is scheduled, the referee-in-chief may not have any idea of who will be playing. He is given times and must make sure that the officials are scheduled. The assignment of the referees for the championship games may be done during the tournament, but the majority of games are assigned in advance.

A referee is not too impressed when he is forced to do the same team more than once or twice in a tournament. Time is the best healer, so during the season if you are in a difficult game there is usually a period of time before you do the same team again. In a tournament, you may have an extremely difficult contest in the morning and find yourself on the ice with the same team a few hours later. This is unfortunate, but it can't be helped. The referee knows the players, coaches and fans will be on his case from the opening whistle because of the problems which arose in the previous game. Add to this the fact that the emotions increase as you get deeper into the tournament and you can well imagine the pressure that a referee feels if he is doing a team for the 3rd time in a day or two.


Tournaments tend to bring out the worst in parents and coaches. The games are emotional powder kegs. If you have traveled a long way to get to the tournament, and if each family has spent hundreds of dollars for hotels, food and other expenses, you want to win at all cost. Add to that the fact that the games may have been shortened a bit for scheduling purposes, and it is easy to see why people lose their tempers easily. We also realize that tournaments often provide alcoholic beverages as refreshment and it is obvious what that does as you get later into the day.


It is time for hockey associations to re-evaluate their priorities. The most important thing they do is organize a league for their member teams. It is time for everyone to stop being so concerned about attending tournaments and pay more attention to using the time and money for additional practices and games with local competition in a situation where they have control over the environment. Tournaments are fine at the end of the season to determine a regional champion, but they have long lost their usefulness as a form of competition during the season.

Tournaments have also lost their usefulness as a fund-raiser for the most part. The expenses have risen so much that the profits have fallen. As a parent, I felt that hockey tournaments were nothing more than a big waste of money. I would spend up to $500 on a weekend to watch my son play 3 to 5 games in order to get a medal that he could hang on the wall. That works out to over $100 per game. When I coached minor hockey teams, I often rationalized with parents who wanted to go on out of town trips. I told them that I would rather have them all pay me $500. That would give me $8000 that I could use to purchase extra ice-time for up to 80 games and practices instead of using that money to buy five games and 16 medals.

Perhaps the most important reason for cutting back on tournaments is because of what tournaments tend to do to the image of minor hockey. Many of the most notorious negative incidents occur during tournaments. Players, coaches, parents and fans get all caught up in the emotional atmosphere surrounding the intense tournament play and then anything can happen.

For the time being, it looks as if tournaments are going to be a big part of the hockey scene for a while yet. Therefore, it is up to tournament organizers and coaches to try to keep a handle on the situation in order to ensure positive experiences for all participants. However, do not bury your head in the sand. If you plan on attending a tournament, be prepared for anything.



After The Whistle would like to hear your comments on this issue.





I am the Trainer / Safety person for my Atom level team.  I had to take a day-long course on how to look out for the safety of my team.  Recently, we played a game where the Referee didn't show up, which I didn't notice until a couple minutes into the game.  The linesman, who were not trained or empowered to give penalties, never called a penalty for the whole game.  We were playing a team much bigger and stronger than us, and this team began to take liberties with their sticks and elbows, with no consequence.  I began
to consider pulling the team, not knowing of this consequence. 
I think it is a stupid rule to suspend a coach who is looking out for the safety of his  players.  What is being communicated by the CHA is that it is more important to finish a game than it is if a player gets hurt, seriously hurt or even killed.  It makes me want to applaud the lawsuits when they come, because we deserve it for having such a stupid rule such as this.  It should be considered on a case by case basis, rather than a flat one size
fits all kind of rule.
David Ernst

What about the Coach of the team that is allowing his players to run the opposition. Does he not have the responsibility to teach fair play? He should be held responsible for not adhering to the "fair play" policy. But alas he won't be suspended. Minor hockey has become a joke, and it is at the top levels of administration.
Grant Fecho
Publisher's Comment: The problem of how to curb excessive physical play on the ice has been with us for a long time. The issue which must now be addressed is how can the responsibility for the safety of the players be shared among the people who are directly responsible for this safety. The referee and the two coaches are the ones who ultimately must decide. Right now, the rules are quite clear. Once a game begins, it takes something pretty big to stop a contest. A referee who stops a contest for unnecessary roughness will have to face his supervisor to answer a lot of questions. A coach who refuses to continue playing will be suspended. There has to be a policy put in place which allows a game to be stopped, or at least suspended pending a ruling. Perhaps one coach can initiate the discussion by calling a time out to meet with the referee, linesmen and the other coach. Both coaches can have their say and the referee and linesmen will take a vote on the matter. Perhaps it should be up to the team which is losing to make the call to forfeit the game. Regardless of what is decided, right now it is not fair to place the responsibility directly on the shoulders of the referee alone. In many of these contests which get out of control, it is through no fault of the referee. Your comments will be appreciated.
I would like to know where Mr. Shaw got his information he used in his letter to the editor, his quote was as follows.
"Why did the Edmonton parents and coaches allow their low level Bantam team - Tier 5 or 6 in Edmonton to enter a tournament hosted by a team  traditionally equivalent to a Tier 2 or 3 team"?
Mr. Shaw, the team entered into the tournament in Tier 6, not into tier 2 or 3.  There were 7 tiers in the tournament, Coach Gmeinweser entered his team into the same level he had played up to that point in the season. The opposition for Mr. Gmeinweser's team requested to go into as high a tier as possible!  The New Sarepta team never played any exhibition games before entering the Edmonton tournament and the organizing committee was just following New Sarepta's request. 
Your statement that the lack of attention to the safety of their kids began before they even left home to play this game is unfounded. Before you make a statement like this next time, I hope you would have more facts!!
Thanks, Rod McMahon
K of C Sabres Bantam Director.
Editor's Note: Tier 1 is the level at which the highest calibre teams play. Therefore, with seven different levels of competition, it is difficult to determine where a team should be placed. Since the New Sarepta club may not have anything to which to compare its calibre, the coach may have simply asked to enter the lowest division possible in order to avoid running into the same situation as Mr. Gmeinweser found himself. Once the game begins, it is too late to stop the competition, however, the safety factor certainly does come into play and it is clear that Mr. Gmeinweser chose to take a course of action which he felt best at the time under the circumstances.

I have a son in minor hockey now.  in the event  I witnessed escalating violence in a game, I would not hesitate to pull my son from the ice, and encourage other parents to do likewise. For the record, my son has very good coaches who both love the game and respect the children.  They encourage excellent skill development while respecting fair and balanced play.




Again, suspending this coach was A huge mistake.  This poor judgment has set in motion much activity and publicity that "Canada's Game" certainly does not need. BUT I FEEL AS A PARENT OF A SON AND A DAUGHTER WHO PLAY HOCKEY, THE TIME FOR ARMCHAIR DEBATING IS OVER.  IT IS TIME TO ACT!



As a hockey parent I know what the risks are with hockey. I know that in PeeWee there is body contact. I know that they will be looking at the Atom level for body contact. I also know that I support body contact at all levels like Mr. Gretzky. You need to teach these kids early on how to take a hit and how to give a hit. Its called safety management.

Having said this I totally agree with the Coachs decision to pull the team. Enough is enough. I know a few teams that have played against New Serepta and those that were at the game watching and said the same thing that team took it to the extreme and the Referees lost control.

Edmonton Minor Hockey said only the Referees can call a game and only parents can pull there children off the ice.

Well they must not read the rule book. How are we parents to get to the Coach to tell him we want our child pulled from the game. We can't the minute we tough the glass we are looking at being thrown out of the arena.

....and if they think the referees are going to call a game that is a joke. Most of these ref's are kids and do you think they would make it to their cars to go home after calling a game. There are a lot of scary parents out there.

The team was losing, they still would have lost. But lets not sacrifice a child for a win.

Darlene Balzer


I read your article on Gmeinweser pulling his team from the ice.  It is imperative that a coach protect his players in all situations.  No matter how you accomplish the pulling of players from the ice, it is the right thing to do when a game is out of hand.  I would not want to see my son or any one else injured, as a result of a minor hockey league game that is meant to be fun.

My hat is off to Mr. Gmeinweser and I hope that his action will not affect his ability to continue coaching.  It takes great courage to stand up for what is right, and clearly what he did is right. 

How can rules be set up to take away the rights of children to show up at the rink and be safe.  Mr. Orr and Mr. Bossy were here in St. Albert last year and sent a clear message along with their sponsor Chevrolet, 'Safe and Fun Hockey'.

When are we all going to get it.  Our kids show up at the rink to have fun, and in the process shouldn't we make it safe so they want to go back?  We need to change rules to favor the participants in hockey, not the organization they belong to.

Ted Durham, St. Albert


In Coaches WE TRUST!
I am a parent of a minor hockey Pee Wee player in the City of Edmonton and I support any coaches decision to place the interest of his kids ahead of the interest of his own personal jeopardy and the "outcome of a game".  I have seen coaches in the past who would not make that decision and I would far prefer a coach who is concerned about his players first and foremost than having someone who doesn't.  That having been said, I also agree that rules be put in place to prevent abuse of the system and that all of us need to strive to improve hockey.  It is perhaps "not fair" that this coach was suspended for the rest of the season but he made a decision knowing full well the risk he was taking and can get up in the mornings smiling because he believes he made the right choice.  Those parents, the Sabres and this coach need to now put their focus on working together to come up with solutions to prevent this from happening again and put their energies into ideas.

All of us has the right, ability and voice to make positive changes and it is far too easy to talk the talk, we all have to walk the walk as well!!!

N. Majek


I am not involved in hockey, but my 4 children play soccer (outdoor and indoor), my husband coaches house-league and club soccer and I am on the soccer board.

I cannot believe that the associations for Edmonton Hockey and Canadian Hockey do not support the coach in this matter.

  1. From what I have read, everyone agrees that the coach did not pull the team off the ice because they were losing.  Isn't that the main reason for the rule of suspension?
  2. It has been said that the parents were out of control and stirring things up.  If that's true, wasn't it just a matter of time before the players got out of control?  Players were already getting hurt.
  3. On the hockey website, 'Relax It's Just a Game' the very first paragraph and item is as follows:

    Respect The Game
    The Canadian Hockey Association asks you to consider your role in showing "Respect" for the game, and for the people who make this the great game it is. How much do you RESPECT the game of hockey and all its participants? Take this simple test to see how you rate.

    Check off the statements that apply to you.

    The safety of the participants in the game is more important than the final score.
  4. How can you punish a coach who followed rule #1 - in putting the safety of the players before the score?
  5. Further on, this is stated:

    10 Ways To Become A Good Hockey Parent

    Get involved with your son Make safety, respect, fair play and fun a priority.
  6. Do you or do you not believe that "Safety of Players" is first and foremost?
  7. It has been said that the coach overreacted.  Isn't it better to err on the side of caution or should he have waited for a bench clearing brawl?  Then the damage is done and it's too late.  He was trying to save the players from getting hurt, not wait until they all got hurt.

This coach should be commended for his spontaneous action and foresight.  He did in fact put the safety of his players first.

What is children sports coming to when an adult cares for the kids, makes sure that nothing dangerous happens to the kids and he is punished for it.

Do you really wonder why kids keep quiet about abuse by coaches?



I for one as a former hockey player and minor hockey coach do support and agree that the coach did the right thing in view of the situation.

Hockey is supposed to be a game and a sport based on skills especially at that level so if the players stand to be injured by the type of play that is going on then the coach was correct in pulling his team.  The fact that none of the players had yet suffered any severe injury should have no bearing.  Does a player have to become paralysed before a coach should feel entitled to pull his team off the ice for their safety.

Remember the game is supposed to be fun for all players on the ice and not just the winning team as in this case.  I applaud the coach for his actions as I would have done exactly the same thing under the circumstances.

For the love of the game,   A. Pascal


I am the parent of a minor hockey player in Edmonton.

When our children play a minor hockey game, we parents give the coach and officials a sacred trust: we give them our children.

During games in Edmonton, parents often have no way to communicate with the players, the coaches, or the officials.  They are likely separated by the ice surface with the only building access being through a locked dressing room.  Therefore we parents must trust the coaches and officials to act for us in our absence.

In my years as a hockey parent, I have watched many games where the referees have taken good care to keep the play safe.  I have also watched many games where the referees have failed to notice an injured young player collapsed on the ice, immobilized while play continues around them.

In Edmonton's minor hockey games, it seems two officials are required on the ice.  In practice, sometimes only one referee is present.  Yet even with two officials on the ice, it must be very difficult for the referees to observe everything that happens during a game.  If they miss an offside call or a two-line pass, we might not like it, and some parents or coaches might get really loud about it, but we accept it, and no real harm is done.

But if the officials don't see a child's head slam into a goalpost, or a child's leg get sliced open by someone's skate, or if the officials don't call penalties for dangerous behaviour, those officials are acting irresponsibly.

If the referees do not listen to the coaches who express their concern and frustration about dangerous play, they are acting even more irresponsibly.

And what can the parents, coaches, and young players do when harm is occurring and the officials do not act?

During an Edmonton minor hockey game, the answer is: Nothing. 

Nothing, except what Mr. Gmeinweser did.  He pulled his players out of harm's way.

That is exactly what I would expect of a coach to whom I have entrusted my child.  This coach placed safety above anything else.

And now, because Hockey Alberta regulations say that any coach who refuses to have his team play must automatically be suspended, Mr. Gmeinweser and his players and their families are going to be punished.

Punished for doing the right thing.

Hockey Alberta needs to change the regulations and policy: player safety must become absolutely paramount, not only in regulation but also in action.

No child should be subject to harm because of a wrong-headed adherence to a paper regulation.

It's time for Hockey Alberta and the Edmonton Minor Hockey Association to do the right thing too.  The safety of thousands of young hockey players depends on it.

Concerned Hockey Parent


As the Bantam Director for the K of C Sabres hockey team involved in this incident I would like to say that the entire executive of the Sabres organization stands behind Tim in his decision to remove his kids from this game. The safety of his kids was the only concern Tim had at the time, not the suspension he may incur.

The EMHA has applied a suspension lasting till the end of this current hockey season.  In a message from the Discipline chair from the EMHA he stated that Tim pulled his team off the ice because he was losing, this is a joke.  Simply stated, Tim did what was best for his team, safety was an issue, if Tim had not pulled his kids at that stage the parents would have done it!  Every Sabre parent in attendance has written a letter of support for Tim. 

As an organization I ask our coach's to be responsible for the players they coach, they attend the CHA sponsored Speak out Safety program where they are taught to make sure the kids are in a safe environment at practices, pre game & post game yet when something happens during the game they are to let it go, the ref is always in charge. If the situation gets out of control on the ice, as what happened here, is the coach being negligent in letting his players continue to get hurt?

Hopefully something positive comes out of this, I do not advocate coach's pulling their teams off the ice because they are losing badly or they don't like the referees, but this incident was a safety issue.

Thanks, Rod McMahon
K of C Sabres Bantam Director.


I think, given the situation of a stronger physical team which is clearly going to win, that I as a parent should pull my son off the bench. The parent holds ultimate responsibility for his child's safety. Personally I would not risk injury for the sake of one game. Hopefully, if we can encourage better attitudes towards referees and their responsibilities,  I won't have to face this situation.



All the opinions I've seen (or heard on the radio)  so far on this matter take the side of the Edmonton coach who pulled out of the game- and maybe the coach was right but how do I know? I wasn't at the game. I haven't heard New Sarepta's point of view. I haven't heard the referee's point of view. In fact, I haven't heard specifically what the Edmonton team's complaint or complaints were. Were the kids a little unlucky in how they fell after a check? Were the New Sarepta kids playing dirty- sticks in the groin and neck or were they just bigger or stronger? I haven't heard that the New Sarepta team has a bad reputation- do they? (They play in the 1660 league, I think and they are #3 of 15 teams in PIM's - but only average 18 PIM's per game which isn't extreme.) All these unanswered questions are why they have a hearing on such an issue. They had a hearing and the coach was found in the wrong.

But I do have a really key question:

Why did the Edmonton parents and coaches allow their low level Bantam team - Tier 5 or 6 in Edmonton to enter a tournament hosted by a team  traditionally equivalent to a Tier 2 or 3 team?

The lack of attention to the safety of their kids began before they even left home to play this game.

Wayne Shaw


After reading your article, I have a number of mixed emotions about this topic.  I feel that really it comes down to coaching.  We had a Peewee A game not so long ago, and a scruff happened in the corner between two players, and the one coach was yelling from the bench acknowledging to his player to finish what had started, and the once again young refs did not call it.  But in saying that the coach did get a 3 game suspension.  

I feel that a lot of coaches get too much freedom from their organization, and if the team is winning then no one definitely wants to say anything to the coach.  The coaches who want to play as a  team with finesse and skill, are being forced to play a killing game because some coaches are teaching their players to crash and bang, and wear them down, and then to go and play the game after they have accomplished their mission.  

So it seems  to me that maybe we should control and monitor our coaches.  Whether that be through our provincial hockey organizations which in affect would affect our home organizations as a whole.  I feel that to many times coaches are put on the bench not because they actually have the skills, but rather that they have the time.  

Just because they take the coaches courses, does not mean they have the ability to coach.  I have also pleaded with our organization to have someone whose job would be to assess the coaches, and treat like a new job application.  Maybe they need on the job training, and it might take a lot of time but once this is complete maybe we would have everyone in hockey with a common objective.  For what its worth I really think we have to make the coaches accountable, as they have more influence over our kids than anyone.  

Dixon Whitecourt 


The following comment raises some serious questions with respect to tournaments. After you read this comment, please read the article on tournaments by clicking here >>>>
I am the parent of a Midget Goaltender who participated in a Christmas tournament in New Sarepta. We had the same referee for three games. He was consistently bad for all three games. I hope it was not the same  referee who was involved in the bantam tournament. If by chance it was then that referee should be suspended forever. He was not consistent in calling the play for either team and let our games get out of hand. We won the first game and lost the last two. In the last game one of our players was slashed with a two handed slash that broke his wrist. No penalty! My son was repeatedly run by the other team and when he said something to the referee , the referee , told him to keep his head up. After about the 7 time my son lost his cool and fought back He slashed the offending player with his goal stick, the referee did not see it no penalty was called, the slashed player jumped my son from behind. My son wrestled himself on top of the other player and started to punch him. This resulted in a match penalty because my son had never been in a fight before and did not know enough to remove his gloves in a fight. He recieved a three game suspension from the Millwoods SEERA Hockey association. He did deserve this and has served his suspension. If the refereeing had not been so bad I feel that this horrible incident would not have happened. By the way in the first game my son was given the award for the player who "showed the most hussle and bustle''. Hussle should be spelled hustle but was misspelled on his trophy. I strongly feel the coach should have questioned the tournament organizer about being given the same referee for all three games in a tournament and requested an alternate for the third game. At the start of the game I said out loud to a parent beside me " I wander if the referee is going to take up where he left off in the last game?" The referee heard me and looked right at us and said "yes"
I fight hard to keep from be-littling the referees as I referee seniors and I know how hard it is . If I was as incompetent as this one was I would hang up my skates.
Dear Shelby:
    Thank you for replying to the afterthewhistle.com website with your experience with a referee in your district.  As both you and I know, for the most part everyone involved in Minor Hockey has at some point run into an inconsistent referee, a coach who is not familiar with the game, a fan who constantly yells obscenities, and players who are malicious to each other on the ice.  I'm certain that you are very proud of your son's accomplishments and that the positive aspects of the game have outweighed the negative otherwise your son would probably have left the game long ago.
    My goal for the website is to improve the image of hockey.  Most people have the misconception that hockey is always an unfair, brutal sport.  In order to change this image, I am promoting the positive aspects of the sport.  If you could share with us some of the positive experiences or accomplishments of your son and or his team, I would gladly publish the story on the website. 
    Thank you again for expressing your interest in www.afterthewhistle.com. I look forward to reading about your son's positive accomplishments and experiences.
Marty Kirwan


Unfortunately there was another incident in Rockland on December 14, 2006 where the coach was suspended for 60 days for teh same type of incident. His appeal was denied by the ODMHA.  The salient point is what happens if play continues and a player is seriously hurt, would the coach be guilty of negligence for permitting play to continue when he felt it was unsafe to do so?

Geoff Hains

I can't offer a legal opinion in this matter, but let's just say that it might be hard for a coach to defend himself in front of a judge if asked that question.

On the other hand, once the game begins the safety of the players is entirely in the hands of the referee. I have often told referees that they would be the ones held the most accountable if it was found that they knowingly put the safety of players in jeopardy.

You almost have to develop a plan in advance with your parents to anticipate such an occurance taking place. If you have some way of getting a message to the parents so that they come down to the ice level and "pull their children" out of the game, there is nothing a coach can do. A coach cannot be held accountable for the actions of his parents and if the coach still intended to play, the referee would have to call the game once he ran out of players.

The current rules do not help a coach who finds himself in a situation where it is necessary to pull his team. When the investigation is held, the parents of the "aggressive team" will all state that the game was not out of hand and that there was never any danger to their players. It becomes one side against the other.

Another way to unofficially pull the team is to ask your trainers and assistant coaches to leave the bench area. The head coach can easily get himself tossed from the game by starting an argument with the referee. The game cannot continue unless there are "carded" coaches behind the bench. Once again, the referee would have to call the game. The team would not have been pulled, but rather ran out of coaches.

Unfortunately, all of this must be planned out in advance, especially at the beginning of the season. No one ever expects to run into such a situation, but there should be a plan. After all, we all have a fire escape plan, but we all hope that we never have to use it.

Just something to think about in the future.

Thanks for the comment.

Robert Kirwan
Publisher, After The Whistle
Basically, coaches need an Emergency Action Plan (to steal a concept for the Trainer's Manual) in the case that a game gets out of hand. In my position as a business management consultant, it would appear that the rule, although it was made with good intentions, should be abolished sine it runs contrary to Hockey Canada's mission to provide a safe and sportsmanlike environment.  In the book Reinventing Government, the authors talk about rule driven versus mission driven organizations. The current rules permit the suspension of a coach for pulling his team off the ice and puts the onus on the coach to prove his motives were for the safety of the team; guilty until proven innocent. 

If the mission statements of Hockey Canada were used as the driving force of the organization, the coach would be permitted to pull the team off the ice when the safety of his players was in jeopardy and then the onus would be on the association to prove the contrary: innocent until proven guilty.

The fear is that if you revoke the rule, coaches will pull their team off the ice with great regularity.  I hardly think this will be the case.  Yes, there will be a few coaches that will try to exploit the rule, but it will be a trivial exercise to spot them and they can be dealt with accordingly.

More importantly, this puts the safety of the players in the hands of the referee and the two caoches especially since most of the minor hockey referees are teenagers.


I am the Trainer / Safety person for my Atom level team.  I had to take a
day-long course on how to look out for the safety of my team.  Recently, we
played a game where the Referee didn't show up, which I didn't notice until
a couple minutes into the game.  The linesman, who were not trained or
empowered to give penalties, never called a penalty for the whole game.  We
were playing a team much bigger and stronger than us, and this team began to
take liberties with their sticks and elbows, with no consequence.  I began
to consider pulling the team, not knowing of this consequence. 

I think it is a stupid rule to suspend a coach who is looking out for the
safety of his players.  What is being communicated by the CHA is that it is
more important to finish a game than it is if a player gets hurt, seriously
hurt or even killed.  It makes me want to applaud the lawsuits when they
come, because we deserve it for having such a stupid rule such as this.  It
should be considered on a case by case basis, rather than a flat one size
fits all kind of rule.

In the last year or so we had a very well respected coach, loved by parents
and players placed in a situation where his players were taking a beating.
He traveled to Ont. (Thunder Bay I believe) from NS, with his Midget AAA
team for a tournament. This team was the best in Nova Scotia for some time.
They were recruited by organizers who lied and tricked them into entering
this tournament which was not meant for 15 to 17 year olds but JUNIOR aged
players. Some players were close to 80 or more pounds heavier than their

His attempts to speak with the officials to stop what he considered down
right dirty play were rebuffed by the referee. The coach took a brave stand
when his players were being injured and pulled his team from the ice. For
this,  the Ont association where this occurred contacted NS officials and
demanded action. If the article is correct even some of the major tournament
sponsors put pressure on NS to discipline him.He was suspended for 6 months.
( Some of my facts may be off but if you wish to research ,it you can find
in the Daily NEWS in Nova Scotia)
In situations like this, if it can be shown that the organizers of the
tournament mislead teams to enter tournaments, that organizer should be
disciplined severely. I would support a ban on his/her personal activity for
3-5 years with any Minor Hockey tournament. Secondly, the tournament itself
should be suspended for 1-3 years for disreputable conduct and lastly the
association hosting the tournament should be made to pay all expenses of the
affected team.  You now have put personal, group and financial
responsibility on all parties and would send a strong message to everyone
that the game of hockey is still about teens having fun and competing on an
even playing field .

I am referee and a coach in NS and have worked with some obnoxious referees
that create more problems than their worth. A better vehicle is needed to
assess and determine whose personality does NOT belong in stripes. (Having
said that there are also many, many coaches who have no business behind the
bench.) Too many assessments are being done by co-referees in the same
organization. Perhaps its time to have outside assessors for all officials.

Dan Pottie


To whom it may concern;

 Although this is now an older article, it is an ongoing issue, this is the
1st I've seen of the writing in question.  I have been a player, a coach,
and am currently an official in the area where this team resides (Although I
was not involved in this tournament).  I found a one sidedness coupled with
a key bad attitude that is typical among the coaching and yes the hockey
establishment in general.  Your article implys that it is up to the referee
alone to keep control of a game and if it gets rough...unless its a one
incident thing,,that it is a referee's fault.  You then tell other stories
focusing on your percieved problems with refereeing and casting us in the
worst possible light.  I would hesitate to count the amount of times I do
games where the coaches begin to whine at the 1st hit agianst their
players..start karping at close calls that don't go thier way, and that are
costantly agling for something every time I go by the bench.  You as a coach
will likely tell me thats part of my job and part of hockey to put up with
this.  I would tell you back that this kind of attitude contributes more to
games getting out of control, especially at younger levels, than anything an
official does or does not call.

How often have I heard "Call that..or its gonna get outta control."
"Someone's gonna get hurt", "Well we'll just have to protect him ourself
then"  "Ok guys, I guess Slashes/elbows/punches (insert thing that may or
may not have happend depending on the point of view or vantage of the
viewer) are legal guys"..or the like...all delivered with almost a
gleefull..."if you wont call it like I (coach) see it then I will absolve
myself of all responsibility for encouraging fairness" tone of
voice..usually delivierd across the ice at full volume.  Honestly..whoever
is reading this..if you are a coach of any length of experience, I can
almost garantee that you have either used these, or been in a game where a
coach has.  Incidently this kind of thing usually ruins the coaches
credibility with the official within 15 seconds, resulting in him not being
taken at all seriously when he may have a legitimate concern to discuss.

  Think about it.  You are your teams role model as a coach!  You are now
teaching them that A) authourity doesnt know best...that dishonest mind
games are the way to gain an advantage..to whine and cry (and possibly
scream and swear), to get revenge if the ref wont do it for you, that you
have no control about how the game will be played and its all up to him,
that 2 wrongs make at least a fairness, and that its ok to treat people like
crap if they don't do things your way, and that it's ok to be willing to
hurt to win, if someone esle thinks the same way.

  Then we are expected to keep these kids under controll???  We have
penalties, but you have the relationship with the players.  If you are good,
they will respect you 1000% more than us no matter what we call.  Coaches
need to realize that in 99.9999999% of hockey no one is going anywhere and
the biggest thing the kids will take from this is LIFE LESSONS!!!  What are
our coaches teaching?

There are so many coaches that get their team jacket, strut around behind
the benches with it, and spend more time focused on what I'm doing than in
growing thier players as people and hockey players.  THESE are the people
that are dangerous to your children.  Not some poor guy that may be reffing
his 1st bantam game, his 1st playoff final, or just mabey a bad day  (yes we
have those, just like you do at work!  We don't like it any more than you
do, but if we appologize usually it is in turn used against us next time we
see you.  You wonder why we seem aloof?).  In any case, the offiial has to
learn and improve somewhere, just like the players do.

  There is also the fact that the majority of refs work hard to improve
thier game every time, to give a good effort, and to keep the game safe and
fair.  That last is our mandate by the way, not to call everything that
happens to your team that MAY be a foul, or that MAY look nasty.  We have to
be fair to BOTH SIDES.  If it was not a foul, it is NOT A PENALTY.  If I see
no way that player can be more than just winded, I will NOT be calling a 5
minute major for an injury.  This would not be fair to your opponent, even
tho yes, he may have committed a foul I must be fair to them as well.  I
know you don't like to see your players lying on the ice.  Neither do I. 
But that will not change what I saw.   You may have seen it different.  You
have a different angle, mabey no one skating in front of you, a better view
of more of the ice, and a LOT more time to make your decisio...oh wait..you
don't need to make a snap decision here do you?  I do, and I get 1-2 seconds
max to do so.  By the way, in my years of coaching, I never saw a rule book.
  Most coaches I talk to are in the same boat.  As a referee however I am
required to own and know this book.  I spend time studying it, I talk it to
my colleuges, and every year I have to prove that knowlege.  I would say
that after their 1st year, most officails REALLY DO know more about the
rules than most coaching staffs or players.  Honest!

I don't mean to attack anyone personally, but I want you and any who would
see this to stop and think about what is happening at the rink and on the
bench.  There are lots of good coaches who add to the game out there...but
there are many many, who's behavior I wouldnt want modeled to my kids win or
lose.  If you want to protect young hockey players, start within the team.

Is the lesson we want to teach that if you don't like whats happening, to
take your ball and go home?   Is this something we want to idealize and

If the players don't commit foul play, I don't need to miss anything do I?


B. Randall
Thank you for your comments.

I will post it on the site as soon as I have a chance.

Just a couple of comments, however, with respect to the issue.

All three of my sons were hockey officials. One is in the Ontario Hockey
League and even refereed at the Under 17 World Championships in Newfoundland
in 2003.

The main point I am making throughout the web site is that an official does
not make the rules - he simply administers the rules. He is much the same
way as a police officer who issues a speeding ticket. Most speeders get
upset with the police officer, but they are really upset at being caught.
Some referees would rather "not make difficult calls".One of the most
difficult calls is the ejection of a coach. However, in many games, the
ejection of a coach or a couple of players is all that is needed to get the
message across and keep the game safe for the players.

You should never allow a coach to yell at you about calls. It only
infuriates the players and fans. Toss the coach and demonstrate that you are
in control. Demonstrate that all coaches and players must respect the
"position" you occupy as the referee. If you ever have a chance to meet
President Bush, you will be forced to call him "Mr. President", not
"George". You may not respect George Bush the person, but you must respect
the position of the President of the United States.

I always maintain that the referee is the one who controls the safety of the
players once the puck is dropped. However, when it comes to a court of law,
I wouldn't want to try to explain to a judge why I allowed my players to
take part in a contest which I knew was unsafe. Just look at the lawsuit
which has been filed against Bertuzzi. It also names about a dozen other
players and management.

Good luck with your officiating. And don't be afraid to use your authority
to make the game better for the players.

Robert Kirwan


I bought my first pair of skates this year.  I have two young boys in Novice and Initiation.  I figured I better learn to skate a bit just in case they needed some help during a practice.  This to say that I am not a product of a minor hockey program and know little of it, save the horror stories of parents gone wild around the coffee machines at work.

I learned of this situation during a recent tournament.  Our team of 7 and 8 year old children were involved in a game against an overly aggressive team. It was during this game that I learned of the coaches suspension for protecting his players.  I was infuriated.  How can an individual, whom I assumed was legal bound to protect my children, be forced to do nothing. Sure I can step in and pull my child.  Know when would ever question my right as a parent to do so.  I see that a "young" official was involved.  If
the coach is unable to action to protect the children, and the young official is unable to control the situation, I am curious if the Tournament Organizers would be found negligent in not protecting the children from harm.

Tim Gmeinweser had a moral obligation, one that transcends any ridiculous bylaw or regulation passed by a governing body of an organization that publishes a document entitled "safety for all".
Travis Brassington
Editor's Comment
Thank you for your letter, Travis. I agree with you in everything you say. It is frustrating, but those are the rules. The Tournament Organizers could stop a game if they felt it was getting out of hand. At that point, the coach would be "off the hook". However, you will seldom see a tournament organizer take that kind of action.
There is no way that a coach should have to sit and watch his team get slaughtered without having any type of recourse. This is the major issue in Minor Hockey, the coaches or team managers do not have enough power to control their team or the situations that may arise. The referees are given absolute power while the coaches have absolutley none. This is totally wrong, as a minor hockey coach myself I am charged with being responsible
for 15 kids, their parents in the stands and my assistant coaches  and yet their is no way for me to protect them from the opposition, the refereeing or unsafe conditions. I think that any coach who feels that their team or players are being abused then should have the right to forfeit the game and take their team off the ice. This would serve two purposes, the first one is the immediate danger on the ice and the second is it might get the associations looking at the refereeing (which in most cases is the root cause of the escalating danger on the ice) and the teams that play under them. The game is meant to be fun and most people know that getting hurt is not much fun. Let's get rid of the teams, players, coaches, and referees who refuse to play the game fairly and cleanly. Suspending coaches who are
usually volunteers for PROTECTING their teams is not the answer. Let's stop the power tripping in Minor Hockey and find out why these types of games are escalating every year and why it always seems to be the coaches fault.

A Tired of Being Blamed Minor Hockey Coach


I am the head coach of a Midget Minor A team in Colorado. After reading some of your comments I can't say strongly enough that there has to be one person that decides whether players are at risk and make the call to pull the team. Being a coach on a bench where the hockey knowledge of the parents varies, several of my parents would pull their kids in the middle of each game in fear for their safety. It cannot be up to the parent to pre-emptively decide to pull their player otherwise the coach has no control over the team and never will.
That said, Coaches also have the ability to communicate with each other and I have sent notes over to other benches requesting that they tone down the hits or we would walk and in one case I walked over to the other bench and told the coach the score speaks for itself so tone down the hitting. There wasn't a case where that didn't work out. Another thing I do as a coach is scout my opponents especially at tournaments. I know prior to the drop of the puck what I think is going to happen and when I have known I was facing a far superior team I have communicated with the coach before hand. In every game the score was inevitable but the experience had by both teams fostered sportsmanship and growth.
Bottom line is that there is no standard for referees, they have authority without accountability and in the end your not going to have the game experience you are looking for if you expect them to control the game. Understand what you are walking into and prepare your team your staff and your opponent by letting them know specifically what you are willing to tolerate and what you are not willing to tolerate and maybe at the end of the day our kids will still grow up loving a great game independent of the success of the teams they have been on or the game to game experiences they have encountered.
Joe Hopkins


The following is the description of the Canadian Hockey Safety Program
(extracted from the EMHA website), a program that EMHA requires for each and
every team to participate in - one that assists us parents in keeping our
players safe on and off the ice as stated below. 

I read below that injury prevention is knowledge the trainer should have.
Well, pulling a team  in my opinion is injury prevention.
I as a parent of a Bantam player and hockey volunteer understand that many
factors influence how a game is played and the ultimate outcome. Safety for
not only the players, but the refs, coaches and even spectators should be
the first and foremost concern.
Would there be as much debate on this if his team was winning!?!?!


The ultimate goal of the program is for all hockey trainers to implement
effective risk management programs with their own teams where safety is the
first priority at all times, both on and off the ice.
"The trainer is as important as the best player on any team. Therefore, it
is important that the trainer have as much knowledge and awareness as
possible related to safety, injury prevention, emergency planning, and
dealing with injuries until medical assistance can be obtained." 
-- Gaetan Lefebvre, Athletic Trainer for the Montreal Canadians and the National
Spokesman for the Trainers Program

This program is targeted at volunteers who find themselves in the role of a
trainer. It may be the:

Assistant Coach
Parent who helps out
Drivers for out of town games

I as a parent take responsibility for my players' safety -
I ensure the equipment meets standards
I ensure that all equipment is worn
I ensure that my player respects his teammates, coach, opponents and
I ensure that I drive safely to and from the arena

However as a parent (of numerous hockey years) it has never crossed my mind
that I should read the EMHA bylaw to ensure that I would know what to do if I felt my player was unsafe.
I put my trust in the coaching staff (there tends to be more than one)
and yet understand that they as parents have probably not taken on the task
of reading the bylaws either.

Maybe EMHA is at fault here
Maybe EMHA needs to inform all players, parents, coaches and spectators of
their RIGHTS while at a MINOR hockey game.
Maybe EMHA needs to assist us all in making this a safe and FUN game for all

Crystal Vandenbroek


I'm currently a USA Hockey Level 3 Official in Connecticut.  I've coached in the area for 15 years at all levels.  I've been involved on both ends in some great games and some really ugly ones.  Sometimes they just happen and there's not much an official can do to avoid it, but it seems to me that most times when it becomes necessary for a coach to decide whether or not to pull his/her team off the ice it's because of  a combination of ineffective and/or inadequate officiating as well as ineffective and/or inadequate coaching. 

I had an experience as an assistant coach in a game with my son once.  It was a peewee A-level game on the road and the officials assigned to the game were, as in the case in the article, not up to the challenge in that they were very young and inexperienced.  They were both also officials from the local area.  Three minutes into the game two of our players were already hurt due to hard checks from behind into the boards.  On one of the plays one of our injured players was even penalized while he lay prone on the ice. Subsequently our head coach was ejected from the game for his outburst following the play.  After another three minutes and further play along the same lines I pulled our team from the ice to avoid further injuries.  I wouldn't hesitate to do it again given the same situation.  As a coach I feel responsible for the safety of my players and in this case I was concerned about that safety enough to warrant this extreme measure to protect it.  This is not something I would do without serious consideration, and it's the only time in my coaching career I've ever done it, but given the same situation again, I wouldn't hesitate at all.  There are times when we as parents and coaches need to risk the possible sanctions in order to uphold our responsibilities to our children.  But I also believe that the opposing coach was partially at fault for allowing the illegal and dangerous hits to continue.  We as coaches need to be instructing our players, especially those just learning the checking part of the game, on how and when to give AND TAKE a legal and effective check.  Too many coaches have taken the hit-to-intimidate attitude instead.

As a side note, as we were leaving the bench area with our players I was approached by a mother from the home team who was amazed that we were leaving and who screamed to me that I needed to remember that this game was for the kids, to which I calmly replied "Exactly".

John G. Saitta, Connecticut


I have a son in Peewee level minor hockey in Edmonton. Our Peewee team also had an opposing team coach pull their team during minor hockey week. Really the only thing to say here is this: All coaches know the rules about pulling teams during a game - they can't do it! They all should also know that the parents CAN pull their team. Anyone involved in minor sports of any kind knows that they as parents have the right to pull their kids at any time and should exercise that right if they feel it necessary.

In reading many of the comments sent in by both readers and coaches many people seem to think that the coach is responsible for the safety of their kids - WRONG!. We, as parents have that responsibility. If the parents deem that their child is getting hurt or will be hurt then parents are responsible to do something about it - whatever they deem right. It's far to easy now a days to push that responsibility onto someone else. The coach's are there to teach our children how to play the game as well as how to belong to and play as a team.

Although this coach may have done this for all the right reasons I don't agree with the coach pulling his team. The parents should have pulled the team if they thought it necessary. Had the parents exercised this option their coach would still be on the bench where they want him to be.

Thank you, Wendy


Minor hockey needs more coaches like Mr. Gmeinweser who are concerned for their players well-being. He should definitely NOT have been suspended for his actions. Some would say that by allowing coaches to do this without fear of penalty, that it would happen all the time.
If that is what it takes to bring the problem to light, then so be it. The three words I really hate to hear, "Let them play". Penalties need to be called. Until referees start calling all penalties, all the time, we will always have a problem in hockey at all levels.  Yes, it slows down the game. 
It won't take long for players and coaches to wise up. Some would say that the problem is that referees doing house league games are also doing competitive games.
I am fairly certain that a slash or a trip or a high stick or a punch, are the same at all levels. Unless there is a more competitive way of doing them that I am unaware of, please tell me. I would not tolerate being sworn at or called names. Why should referees. Call penalties. Yes, some will get called that aren't penalties. 
We need to put RESPECT back into the game. That has to start with coaches. I hope I don't lose any sleep, knowing Mr. Cherry won't agree with me. Maybe if he were to say something that would help, the problem would change over-night. But that won't happen. Enough said. Let's do something.

R. Allen
Coach and concerned parent.
Ottawa, Ontario.


I am a parent with a son who played minor hockey, coached in minor hockey for 14 years, reffed for 10 years in minor hockey, and am a referee coordinator. I am amazed how one sided all the articles and opinions are of this incident. I to was concerned about safety and refering quality while my son played but decided it was better to get involved rather than bitch, blame and complain.

I'm not trying to say dangerous situations don't occur because they do. There are four main componets to a safe hockey game in two coaching staffs, the referees and the parent/fans. If any one of these or especially two of these components does not have control, the players will soon respond and emotions take over and dangerous play occurs.  Each have their responsibilites to do.

First many parents set the tone in the arenas and fail to control their emotions. Any time their side isn't given the upper hand by the officals, they yell and scream at young kids reffing hoping to sway the next call. Parents and fans can and should cheer their team but do they need to yell and scream at unfavorable plays or calls? Remember even if they don't agree it won't make it any safer by screaming at the ref.  I never heard it asked if the fans were civil in this case?

A coaching staff can control and have a huge influence on the tone of the game. Although the coach in this situation, has been congratulated for his actions, he has never been questioned whether he used tactics such as sending his captain to the ref to ask for explainations, or ask the ref to come to the bench to discuss the situation rather than just yelling at him about his calls. He could of also used delaying tactics, late line changes, send out one player to many or one player short just to delay, or icing the puck frequently. If the game result is no longer in question what's a delay of game penalty or a missed scoring oppertunity. These games do have ice time limits and the clock is turned down with five minutes in the ice time. Another responsibility of the coach is to not enter games which the skill level is unbalanced. Body checking at the Bantam  lower teirs is always a concern because of the size and skating ability differances. Unbalanced abilities adds to the danger.

Referees do have an equal responsiblity, to keep it fair and safe. It has always seemed to be implied that the refing was unfair. But the responsibility is equal to the other components not over and above.

It is very evident the people in this incident knew how to work the media for some attention. It's not like this has never happened before, but it sure got a lot of attention. All the focus was on how the coach should be supported for pulling his team rather than how he might of been able to communicate with the referee better and or change the pace and the mood. Pulling teams will not make it safer. Since this incident we have already had some copy cats looking for attention. If this trend continues to grow soon all or many 4 or 5 goal leads will result in teams leaving claiming it's unsafe.

If you really want to make it safer, we can use some more adult referees, but make sure you do your part at the arena, because you are part of it, even when you are just the reporter.

Dallas Steinke


First of all only the players, coaches, parents and referee attending the game can really comment on what happened.  Secondly, the players, coaches and parents are seeing the game through tainted vision.  They only see their son or their team being hit.  The only non bias person in the rink is the referee.  If you don't believe me go to any rink sometime and watch a full game.  Listen to the parents screaming at their own kids, the other team, and the officials.  This is how the referee sees the game.  From what I have heard around the rink and from all the other postings it sounds to me that the New Sarepta team was not playing dirty but just physical stronger than the other team. During the coarse of a hockey game there are hundreds of instances where a strong player hits a weaker one and occasionally someone gets hurt.  Usually this happens to both teams.  Unfortunately in this case the other team had the majority of the stronger players. If the check is clean and someone get hurt this is part of the game.  The referee will not and should not call a penalty.  The weaker player has to learn how to protect them self when along the boards or keep their head up.  The only way you develop theses skills is by playing stronger players.  Unfortunately this case sounds a little more sever, and the players were getting hurt.  I didn't hear how many players were injured or the extent of their injuries.  Did some players go to the hospital?  Were there any concussions or broken bones?  If anyone knows I would appreciate the stats.  

I do think that if a team is getting physically hurt that something has to be done.  However if we give power to the coaches to remove the teams from a game I assure you it will be abused.  There are many good coaches around and a couple of exceptional ones but there are a few bad apples that would abuse this privilege. 

Where do you draw the line?  Can a coach pull his team if he feels his players are in jeopardy.  Or, how many players have to be injure to call it.

Part of the game is learning how to lose and sometimes it is a hard lesson to take.  Some people would rather quite then go through it.  I am not saying that is what happened in this case because I wasn't there but I am saying it would happen.  I raise this question, do you think the coach would have pulled his team if they were winning??? Despite the fact that they were getting beaten physically.

There is one way to avoid the 1 year suspension and stop the game.  You can run out of players.  This can be achieved by injuries and/or penalties.  This is an unfortunate way to end a game but you are in an unfortunate situation.

Fan, Player, and Official



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