Hunter suspended in clap flap

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 6:35 AM ET

The Ontario Hockey League is tired of Dale Hunter's act. The London Knights will begin their road to the Memorial Cup with their coach suspended for the first four games.

The Knights open the season tonight in Kitchener and play the home opener Sunday against the Rangers at the John Labatt Centre.

Hunter's suspension, announced yesterday, stems from two incidents -- two games for a gesture toward the referee in a preseason game Sept. 16, then an automatic two games 24 hours later when player Josh Beaulieu left the bench with play in progress and he immediately initiated a fight.

The gesture -- applauding referee Steve Webb -- earned Hunter a game misconduct, which normally carries just a $250 fine.

But OHL commissioner David Branch said Hunter is a "repeat offender" and was warned in the past that further clapping wouldn't be tolerated.

Branch said it was evident that Hunter chose not to heed the warning after being ejected in the past.

"We had discussions with Dale previously about this clapping, but he said he felt his actions were not demeaning toward the officials," Branch said from Peterborough during a league media conference call. The regular season began last night.

"Dale said (the clapping) was better than yelling, but we told him any action that demeans an official is not acceptable. We conveyed that and he chose not to adhere to it. Hopefully, we won't see that again.

"This is something we don't expect from someone in a leadership role and it's certainly not fair to the officials."

Branch was asked if he is concerned the season is opening with a black eye on the team selected by the league to play host to the Memorial Cup in May.

"I have the utmost respect for the passion and competitive nature of the Hunters," Branch said of Dale Hunter and his brother Mark, the Knights general manager. The two co-own the team.

"They've been working through a period of adjustment and I have absolutely no concern they'll do anything to take away from the Memorial Cup event.

"I have every confidence Dale Hunter and Mark Hunter will conduct themselves in a fashion deemed appropriate and will do nothing to tarnish the image of the London Knights, the city of London, the Ontario Hockey League, the Canadian Hockey League or the Memorial Cup."

Dale Hunter said he doesn't think clapping is bad. "I'm not cursing and swearing at the referee and I wasn't up on the bench," he said.

"The reason I don't curse -- and most other coaches do at the referees and I guess they (the league) don't care about that -- is because there are young kids everywhere.

"What would you sooner have? Clapping doesn't hurt anybody. Dave Branch said don't clap on top of the bench. I wasn't standing on the bench. I was behind it. Is there a no-clapping rule? I guess I can swear now. I guess I've got to put handcuffs on."

Mark Hunter defended his brother.

"Dale does that (the clapping) because he doesn't want to swear, when other coaches do. He doesn't want to swear with little kids around and I don't want him to do that.

"I guess that's where we as owners come in and we don't want the obscenities. That's where at the end of the day I appreciate Dale for not doing that. We'll deal with the clapping and Dale won't do that any more."

Erie Otters coach Dave MacQueen was suspended two games and the team fined $1,500 yesterday after MacQueen threw a water bottle into the Kitchener bench during a preseason game.

"Two games for clapping and two games for firing a water bottle? Is that right?" Mark Hunter asked.

"That's up to them. We have to live by the rules."

Assistant coach Jeff Perry will look after the forwards in Dale Hunter's absence. Jacques Beaulieu directs the defence.

It was also a costly day for the Knights as Josh Beaulieu's action in leaving the bench cost the team $1,000. The Knights were also fined $1,500 for three fights over the allowed four in the preseason game where Hunter was ejected. Beaulieu is also suspended two games for leaving the bench.


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