ANTIGONISH: An intense hockey brawl between archrivals St. Francis Xavier University and Acadia University was triggered when an Axemen player made a comment using the word “rapist” aimed at an X-Men.
The ensuing melee spread from the centre ice circle to the front of the teams’ benches and was captured both on the live game feed, along with in-person videos that spread on-line and quickly drew national attention.
Atlantic University Sport (AUS) confirmed the suspensions of 15 student-athletes and both head coaches following the violent altercation which broke out at 9:05 during the third period of AUS hockey action on February 2 in Wolfville.
Nine players from StFX and six players from Acadia were handed automatic suspensions of between two and five games, totaling 39 games, resulting from violations of AUS and U SPORTS playing violations.
For the X-Men, Regan Spears, Sam Studnicka, William Thompson, Nathan Pancel, Mark Tremaine, William Bower, Bailey Webster, Cole MacDonald, Aaron Hoyles, and head coach Brad Peddle all received suspensions.
“It’s unfortunate that something like this is even possible in our locker rooms or within our teams in men’s hockey,” AUS executive director Phil Currie told reporters during a news conference in Halifax. “In the comment, the word ‘rapist’ was used, so to a victim of sexual assault, obviously that has a tremendous amount of impact. Let me be clear about this – in terms of student-athletes in our system, regardless of the sport – making comments like that, it’s just not acceptable or appropriate, and we will address it.”
Normally, these suspensions would have been confirmed following the game, but given the unprecedented number of players involved, the AUS hockey chair, Dave McLean and Currie felt it was necessary to review all the material available to them and ensure nothing was missed by the officials who were dealing with the chaotic and dangerous situation in real time.
Currie has also filed official complaints on five athletes and three coaches involved in the incident after reviewing video evidence.
Now that the automatic sanctions have been confirmed, the AUS disciplinary process will continue and supplementary discipline will be handed down once the more extensive review has been completed. The secondary review will involve the AUS sport chair gathering additional evidence and speaking directly with players, officials and coaches involved to determine if more severe sanctions are warranted.
In a statement issued on February 4 by StFX, the school alleges the brawl began after one of their student-athletes, Sam Studnicka, was targeted by a derogatory comment related to a sexual assault survivor. There was no explanation in the statement of Studnicka’s connection to the unnamed sexual assault survivor.
“Over the course of my three-year AUS career, I have been challenged in dealing with insulting and derogatory comments on the ice pertaining to the shaming of a sexual assault survivor. It has taken an emotional toll on me, and it has been frustrating that one AUS hockey program in particular has elicited repeated on-ice comments directed towards me,” Studnicka said. “Another comment was made during the third period of Saturday night’s game, which was addressed by my head coach to the on-ice officials and to the opposing team’s head coach. I was completely shocked when, minutes later, I was on the ice and the offending athlete [who made the comment] was sent to take the face-off against me.”
He said he was proud the way his teammates stood up for him and stood up for something bigger than hockey.
Currie thought it was important for Studnicka to come forward and say his piece publicly.
“I applaud him for having the courage to do so, but that doesn’t change the investigation we’re pursuing in reference to the incident, and our commissioner will still do his work and look at all the issues related to the incident.”
He advised this was unacceptable behaviour from student-athletes and coaches as they are institutions for higher learning and their top priority is the safety and well-being of their student-athletes.
“One of the things that we’ve tried to do in university sport, one of the reasons we don’t have fighting in university sport, is an attempt to change the culture in the hockey world,” Currie said. “I think potentially, this is related to a cultural issue and [it’s] not acceptable in a university environment. We don’t condone it in any way, shape or form.”
Brad Peddle, head coach for the X-Men, said after 14-years coaching at the university level, he doesn’t condone fighting in the league and completely understands that fighting is not part of the AUS game, but he believes this incident was avoidable.
“What I do understand and support completely is the actions of my student-athletes and how they chose to stand up for their teammate on an issue that is more important than winning a hockey game. It is a testament to the character and integrity of the student-athletes in our locker room,” he said in the statement. “Supporting Sam has always been the top priority. In this specific instance, our team took a stand to protect him from repeated, unnecessary insults that have no place in sport or the greater society.”
An initial statement provided by Acadia denied the allegations from StFX. In a secondary statement provided on February 6, Acadia accepted the ruling by the AUS and acknowledged that one of their student-athletes made an inappropriate comment containing a particular word.
The StFX X-Men and the Acadia Axemen will meet in a best two-of-three series during the first round of the AUS playoffs that’s scheduled to start tonight (February 13) at the Charles V. Keating Centre in Antigonish.