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Clash over cowbell: Hockey coach in Nova Scotia accused of assaulting referee

A minor hockey coach in Nova Scotia is facing charges after a referee was allegedly assaulted during a game on the weekend. RCMP in Colchester Country say they received a complaint Saturday morning from an arena on Carter Road in Brookfield.The RCMP logo is seen on the shoulder of a superintendent during a news conference, Saturday, June 24, 2023 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

STEWIACKE, N.S. — A dispute over a cowbell led to a fracas Saturday at a hockey rink in central Nova Scotia, where the RCMP were told a coach had assaulted a referee during a game involving nine- and 10-year-old players.

RCMP in Colchester County confirmed Tuesday the coach is facing an assault charge.

Melissa Johnson said she was watching the game at the Don Henderson Memorial Sportsplex, in Brookfield, N.S., when a player with the Cumberland Ramblers was handed a major penalty for a heavy hit on an opponent with the Brookfield Elks.

"It was quite a rough hit," Johnson said in an interview. "The kid hit the ice pretty heavy."

That's when someone on the Brookfield side of the arena threw a cowbell onto the ice.

Johnson said the referee then picked up the bell and tossed it into the Brookfield bench, where it hit the team's coach.

"I didn't see exactly where it hit him," Johnson said. "Next thing you know, the coach comes off the bench … walks over to (the Cumberland side) … and (he) grabbed the ref and just punched him in the helmet two or three times and then just walked back."

Johnson said she and other parents were shocked by what they saw.

"This is something I've never seen before," she said. "I've been to a lot of hockey games."

The alleged attack also upset many of the young players.

"All these kids were coming off the bench in tears," Johnson said. "They were scared. It was the look of fear on their faces that was the most heartbreaking thing … No kid should ever have to feel like that."

The Brookfield coach left the rink before police arrived. He later turned himself in at the RCMP detachment in Stewiacke, N.S. He was released on conditions and is scheduled to appear in court at a later date.

Hockey Nova Scotia issued a statement saying the incident is under review by an independent third party. As for the coach, he has been suspended indefinitely, said spokesman Garreth MacDonald. As well, he said counselling has been offered to all players and parents involved.

Meanwhile, the South Colchester Minor Hockey Association issued a statement saying it was a "tough day" for the group.

"We appreciate all of our caring coaches, dedicated referees and supportive parents, who make hockey such a positive experience for our players," the association said. 

"Please know we are working with all of the appropriate organizations . ... We are still the same association, with the same genuine heart and dedication to do what is best for our kids." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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