Wild hockey brawl leads to suspensions of 15 players, both head coaches

HALIFAX — Two head coaches and 15 players have been suspended after an ugly university hockey brawl that spread from the ice to both squads’ benches.

Atlantic University Sport announced the suspensions Wednesday, days after members of the Acadia Axemen and St. Francis Xavier X-Men fought during a game in Wolfville, N.S., on Saturday that was captured on video and circulated widely online.

Six Acadia players and nine from the X-Men were handed automatic suspensions that ranged in length from two to five games, totalling 39 games.

The suspensions also apply to the two head coaches and are effective immediately.

“It’s unfortunate that something like that is even possible in our locker rooms or within our teams in men’s hockey,” AUS executive director Phil Currie said at a news conference Wednesday.

“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. 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.”

Currie has also filed official complaints on five athletes and three coaches involved in Saturday’s incident after reviewing video evidence.

That means they will be subject to a secondary review process, which will involve the AUS sport chair “gathering additional evidence and speaking directly with players, officials and coaches involved to determine where more severe sanctions are warranted,” a statement said.

It will also look into allegations the fight may have been sparked by sexual assault-related comments made to an X-Men player.

On Monday, St. F.X. issued a statement alleging the brawl was instigated by a derogatory comment related to a sexual assault survivor that was made to an X-Men player. A few hours later, Acadia issued its own statement, saying the information it had gathered was not consistent with allegations made by St. F.X.

Currie told reporters Wednesday the comment was directed at St. F.X. player Sam Studnicka, and was something to the effect of, “You’re a little (expletive) rapist.”

“In the comment, the word ‘rapist’ was used, so to a victim of sexual assault, obviously that has a tremendous amount of impact,” Currie told reporters.

“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.”

Currie did not elaborate further on the comment that allegedly sparked the brawl.

On Monday, Studnicka issued a statement saying that over his 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,” said Studnicka.

“There is no place for such comments within our society. Sexual assault is a very serious issue and there is simply no place for shaming sexual assault survivors, ever.”

Acadia did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, while St. F.X. said in an email: “St. F.X. is honouring the decision of the AUS. We have no further comment.”

The fight occurred in the third period of the game, leading to the ejection of five Axemen players, eight X-Men and both head coaches. Currie explained that if a player left his bench, he received an automatic two-game suspension.

Videos posted to social media show players on both teams hurling profanities, striking each other and grabbing each other’s jerseys near the Acadia bench during the brawl.

Acadia was scheduled to play at Saint Mary’s University Wednesday night, while St. F.X. was set to return to action Friday at the University of New Brunswick.

Acadia’s head coach, Darren Burns, was given a two-game suspension — a game misconduct penalty, and an additional game because an Axemen player was the first to leave the bench.

Brad Peddle, head coach of St. F.X., was also handed an automatic two games, because Saturday was his second game misconduct penalty of the season.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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