Darren Height shows the bruise on his thigh he sustained from a slash while officiating a game last weekend during the Source for Sports AAA Hockey Challenge.
Swollen and bruised, a linesman who was slashed by a young player during a hockey tournament says he’s thinking about walking away from officiating after 20 years.
Darren Height says there has been a general decline in respect in hockey, including the respect young players are supposed to show to officials.
"This whole incident just shows me that there is no respect in the game," Height said in an interview with the Brandon Sun this week.
The slash happened at Westman Place on Sunday morning during the championship game for the 1997 birth year division of the Source for Sports AAA Hockey Challenge.
Height, who was working the game as a linesman, gave the following account and said trouble began with about 12 minutes to go in the second period.
A team called Can-am, made up of players from northwestern Ontario and Minnesota, was leading the Mallard Stars of Manitoba 5-3.
Height said the Mallard player in question had received a minor slashing penalty and disagreed with the call — the teen voiced his displeasure by swearing at the referee.
The cussing brought the player a misconduct penalty and, when the player’s shouting continued, the referee handed him a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and a game misconduct.
"The ref thought it was in his best interest, and everyone else’s, to just let this kid go to the shower," Height said.
Height said he was guiding the player off the ice when the teen turned around and used his stick to deliver a two-handed slash.
The linesman turned his body to protect himself and the blow landed on his leg.
"It was hard enough that I’ve got about an eight-inch bruise that goes from the top of my thigh to almost just below my butt cheek," Height said.
He said he then pushed the player toward the exit so that he couldn’t swing again. The player, who also got a match misconduct for the blow, swore and then apparently headed to the dressing room as Height says he skated toward the timekeeper’s box.
Height said he never touched the player as he guided him off the ice, nor did he swear at the player or insult him.
Things got worse from there, and officials called the game when Mallard players failed to return to the ice to continue play.
Officials had to be escorted to their dressing rooms by tournament staff as parents with the Mallard team voiced their displeasure.
Height was left sore from his bruise but didn’t need medical attention.
Officials and tournament organizers have identified the player who delivered the slash as Dallas Miller.
The 14- or 15-year-old forward was picked in the sixth round of this year’s WHL draft by the Prince Albert Raiders. Miller previously played hockey in Winnipeg with the AAA Bantam Division 1 Sharks.
In two decades of officiating high school, senior and minor hockey, Height said this marked the worst abuse he has ever faced and he’s thinking about giving it up.
"I don’t need the bull---t, essentially," Height said. "Yes, I get paid to ref, but I’m going out there to ensure that the game is fair and consistently called ... if there’s no officials, who knows what would happen with the game."
For this tournament, the 37-year-old family man, who has two young daughters, wouldn’t have been covered by insurance if he was seriously injured.
Height said a general lack of respect has crept into the game, from the NHL to minor hockey — between players, between players and coaches, and between players and referees. It takes the form of swearing and cheap hits.
Tournament director Darryl Wolski said spring and summer hockey tournaments aren’t sanctioned by Hockey Manitoba or Hockey Canada.
So, siding with officials, Wolski banned the player who slashed Height from his tournament. He said directors of other Manitoba, North Dakota and Minnesota tournaments have agreed to do the same.
Wolski said the same player had been suspended for a game earlier in the Brandon tournament for hitting another player in the face with the butt end of his stick.
Height said he has spoken to police about the possibility of pressing an assault charge. He said he’s not pursuing that option at this point, but he hasn’t entirely ruled it out.
"I understand the kid was frustrated, it was the heat of the moment," Height said.
He said a written apology to himself, Wolski and the other on-ice officials involved would go a long way to making amends.
Height said he also wants to see a change to the Hockey Manitoba charter when it comes to tournaments. He said each tournament, regardless of who hosts it, should be sanctioned.
"If this was a sanctioned tournament, this kid would be done playing hockey in Manitoba," Height said. "Hockey Canada would probably then look at it and ban him from other hockey as well."
As it stands, while the player is banned from certain tournaments, he can still play elsewhere.
A call to a coach of the Mallard team failed to get an immediate response.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 31, 2012