The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) had its share of controversy over the weekend after a coach from the Nelson Leafs accused a visiting player from the Kamloops Storm of using racial taunting during the Leafs 4-2 win on Nov. 2.
“That shouldn’t be anywhere in the game. I mean, the game is competitive and I get it. You want to have an edge sometimes mentally and there’s a little bit of trash talk. But also why does it have to be so personal? That is cutting too deep. There’s no place for it, there’s just none,” said Dale Hladun, the head coach and general manager of the 100 Mile House Wranglers.
Nelson’s assistant coach, Adam DiBella, declined to name the players involved in the incident but had similar ideas about racial language, also saying there was no place for it in hockey and society.
DiBella also said he complained to the officiating crew during the game, however, the referees and linesmen never made a call or just didn’t hear anything.
“I don’t blame the refs one bit,” he said. “They told me they’d look out for it, but they can’t make a call they didn’t hear.”
Steve Gainey, the head coach of the Kamloops Storm, said he didn’t hear anything from the officials. He said the whole incident may have been a misunderstanding between the two players.
“One of the things that came out was he said, ‘We’re back, baby’ and the kid took it as “We black, baby.” So I think there’s a place where the kid might be a little sensitive and maybe had it happen in the past, which is understandable.”
Gainey said the coaching staff looked at it on the bench when the issue came up and said it was something they would take seriously within the Kamloops Storm organization. According to him, nobody on his team said anything like that came out when Gainey challenged them.
Both DiBella and Gainey were tossed from the game late in the third period.
Hladun said coaches can’t hear everything that happens on the ice, and has had players in the past who have been victimized by racial comments and insensitivity.
“We’ve heard it from other teams,” said Hladun. “When you are the coach you can’t hear everything that’s said on the ice. You can hear from the bench, but you can’t hear everything so I don’t want to proclaim or say that we’re squeaky clean. I just didn’t know. Generally, if the linesmen and the referee hear it they do make comments to the coaching staff and say ‘hey, your players shouldn’t be talking like that. Please clean that up.’ I’ve been around it but it’s just disappointing overall.”
Hladun went on to call such behaviour as weak.
“If that’s how you’re trying to get a step on somebody through that kind of language, you’re just mentally weak, you’re just a sad player and that’s pathetic. It’s disappointing to hear that but it does occur.”
The incident got more bizarre. Gainey told Kamloops This Week that Nelson’s players surrounded their bus after the game with five cars. DiBella disputed this in the Nelson Star, telling them that this never happened and Gainey was not telling the truth. He went as far as saying “that’s a poor excuse for bad conduct by their coaching staff.”
Hladun mentioned that the whole issue could make for some awkward locker room situations in the future.
“What’s sad is when these guys are trash-talking that hard and being so cutthroat. What’s bizarre is any given week there could be player trades and that guy could be your teammate in a weekend or that guy could be your teammate if you move up to Jr. somewhere or college. How could you just turn that off?”
—With files from Tyler Harper of the Nelson Star and Marty Hastings of Kamloops This Week