Story by Christian J. Stewart (ISN), with Files From CP and Nanaimo Daily News
October 28, 2012, Nanaimo, BC (ISN) – A Nanaimo minor hockey player and the Nanaimo Minor Hockey Association are coming under investigation by the RCMP after an incident in September where a visiting Saanich player was severely injured, suffering a ruptured spleen, during a Bantam “A” hockey game at Frank Crane Arena.
The incident happened near the end of a Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association (VIAHA) Bantam “A” (13-14 year old age group) “placement game” between the Nanaimo Clippers and Saanich Braves that was won by the Nanaimo team 6-5.
According to ISN sources who were in attendance at the game, the Nanaimo player allegedly skated up to the Saanich player at centre ice with approximately 13 seconds remaining and strongly butt-ended the Saanich player in the abdomen with his stick. No penalty was issued on the play, as it was apparently not observed by any of the on-ice officials at the time.
The blow was severe enough to rupture the boy’s spleen and send him to hospital in serious condition, where it was found that because of internal bleeding that resulted, the player had lost nearly 30% of his blood volume, a situation that could have easily resulted in death. The player has since recovered and is out of danger, but has not yet been cleared by doctors to return to school and is nowhere close to being able to return to the ice.
The incident was initially investigated by VIAHA officials during which Nanaimo parents and coaches of the team and officials in the Nanaimo Minor Hockey Association allegedly indicated that nothing untoward happened and that the injury was the result simply of a normal hockey body check. In an interview with the Nanaimo Daily News Monday, VIAHA President Jim Humphrey said that the association opened an investigation days after the game and that results were “inconclusive.”
In that same Daily News article, Roberta Bortolotto, president of the Nanaimo Minor Hockey Association is also quoted as saying there was a lot of “grey area” around the incident, that the implication of any malicious intent on the part of the Nanaimo player was “ridiculous” and that it was simply the result of the inherent risk that is always there in hockey games when players of differing sizes come together in a collision.
Clearly, there are differences in interpretations of the incident by Bortolotto and what others at the game observed and it is those differences and the assertation by Bortolotto that there was no malicious intent that sparked the Saanich player’s father to contact the RCMP and ask for a more detailed investigation.
Constable Gary O’Brien of the Nanaimo RCMP in a Canadian Press story Monday, said police are now trying to determine how the boy was injured. “There was a body check thrown and there’s also an allegation that the stick was used in a spearing manner,” he said Monday. “We don’t know what caused the injury whether it’s the stick or the check.”
O’Brien said that Mounties have spoken with referees, league officials, players and coaches on both sides but the incident isn’t any clearer.
Since the September incident, ISN has also learned that the same Nanaimo player allegedly caused injury to another opposing player in a more recent game, with a violent check from behind into the boards. The Nanaimo player has now been suspended by VIAHA pending the latest incident and the RCMP investigation of the September 23 incident.
The suspension by VIAHA is laudable, but one has to wonder why such a suspension was not handed out earlier – the player was not suspended until October 21 – and why it took another player being injured and an RCMP investigation to prompt a closer look at the on-ice behavior of the player in question? One also has to wonder why the Nanaimo team’s coaching staff did not step in to deal with and address what appears on the surface, to be the troubling on-ice behavior of one of their players?
While the exact nature of how the injury happened may be in question, the bottom line is that it takes a great deal of localized and extreme blunt force trauma to cause the degree of injury experienced by the Saanich player, likley more than what would normally happen in a simple body check between two 13-14 year old players.
Hopefully the RCMP investigation can shed more light on this and provide answers to all the questions raised above, so that incidents like these, especially those that do arise out of malicious intent, can be eliminated from the game of hockey, especially at such a young age group level.
With regard to the September 23 incident, the RCMP are asking anyone who witnessed the incident or has video of the game, to please contact Const. Ryan Scrase of the Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345.