Brian Maloney played pro hockey for years and has seen just about everything there is to see on the ice.
But even he is shocked sometimes by the things he witnesses in Chilliwack men’s rec-league games.
“I’ve been asked to play many, many times and I refuse to because there’s more stick work going on out there than I’ve ever seen,” the Chilliwack Chiefs hockey boss said. “I played 15 years professionally and hardly even got cut. I went out to play with some buddies over Christmas one time and sure enough, 15 minutes in and I’ve got zippers (stitches) over my eyes.”
It’s a problem that isn’t getting better for the popular Chilliwack Adult Hockey League, and Andrew Shaw is the man tasked with fixing it.
Shaw took the reins of the Chilliwack Adult Hockey League just over two months ago.
Already he’s suspended 10 different people for things like spearing someone in the groin, cross-checking someone in the head, sucker-punching and fighting.
“We’re trying to get a wrap on the league, but it’s a bit of wild west right now,” Shaw said. “People need to be reminded that the things they do here could have serious consequences beyond dealing with us.”
Shaw refers to a recent court settlement in Ontario, where a man was hit from behind during a beer-league game in Ottawa and was awarded $700,000 for the long-term injuries that resulted. The settlement sets a new precedent, opening the window to future court action against players who misbehave on the ice.
“When I phone some of these guys, they’re lucky they’re dealing with me and not the police, because honestly, when you cross-check someone in the head, that’s assault,” Shaw says.
Rec league is theoretically non-contact, but Maloney acknowledges it’s filled with competitive guys who cross lines they shouldn’t in the name of winning. As an ex-player himself, he can put himself in their skates and understand, on some level, how things happen.
“I know what a lot of these guys are thinking, and the guys who are lashing out are often doing it because another guy is playing ‘too hard’ in a recreational setting,” he explained. “Someone quote unquote ‘deserves it’ because he’s using his stick, he’s getting in on the body and he’s working too hard. Their way to police that is to jump him or sucker-punch him to ‘teach him a lesson.’
“So I guess it goes both ways. Yes, there are different and much better ways to handle that situation rather than cross-checking a guy or sucker-punching him in the head, but the guys who are hacking and whacking need to realize that there’s a way to be competitive and play hockey without doing that.”
Hockey has evolved significantly over the last few decades, away from bench-clearing brawls and enforcers whose sole job was to enforce the ‘hockey code.’
Maloney believes there is a certain respect between players that didn’t always exist, even with his junior A Chiefs.
“I know recreational hockey is still competitive and people want to win, but that respect factor needs to be there,” he noted. “It’s happening at the higher levels and I don’t know why it’s not happening at the recreational level.
“I’d like to think it’s more competitive at the junior or pro levels, but you don’t see guys getting sucker-punched anymore in our league (BCHL) or those higher leagues. There’s hardly any fighting anymore either. So it’s being proven that there is a way to be competitive and still play the sport.”
The Chilliwack Adult Hockey League has a thick rule book that covers a lot ground. Maloney says part of the problem is it hasn’t been properly enforced.
“The last thing we want to do is suspend these guys or fine them because they’re valuable members of our community who are taking time out of their schedules and paying money to play in our league,” he says. “But maybe handing out more suspensions is the answer.”
Every game is on video, and Shaw says he can go back and check the tape for any incident, so no one is going to get away with anything.
And he does pump the brakes on the idea that the entire Chilliwack Adult Hockey League is full of maniacs running around trying to recreate a scene from Slap Shot.
This is simply Shaw wanting them to behave better and sort this out themselves before something really bad happens.
“The idea isn’t to call our guys out and embarrass them,” Shaw says. “It’s just to set the conversation and gently remind them of the expectations.”