Hunter not worst offender

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:00 AM ET

The Ontario Hockey League sent a message to Dale Hunter.

It wasn't so much the two-game suspension the London Knights coach earned for making gestures at a referee. It was the $5,000 fine. That's a sizable chunk of change to anyone. Considering it was Hunter's third ejection of the season, some might consider him lucky to only get away with two games.

The message is clear. Don't embarrass the referees or the next time it's going to be more games and more money.

It's a message the Ontario Hockey League needs to learn as well.

OK, so the OHL punished Hunter for something he shouldn't have done. But the gesture Hunter made at referee Joel Washkurak, that he needed glasses, is laughable in comparison to what other coaches get away with.

Hunter is a veritable statue when you compare him to other OHL coaches. If you see enough OHL games, you'll get used to the sight of coaches standing on the boards, flapping their arms, pointing their fingers and screaming. So much screaming. And while they may not have the inventive gestures Hunter has displayed, they have plenty of other gestures that merit review.

Hunter's gesticulating is something everyone can see. The league believes it's demeaning to an official. But what about coaches who scream their heads off at the officials, who can be heard around the rink dropping F-bombs with the staccato rapidity of a machine-gun when their team doesn't get a call they like? The people in the back row of the rink might not be able to hear it but the referees can. The language is an embarrassment and is without question demeaning to an official.

Yet the referees and the league continue to tolerate it.

OHL commissioner David Branch said Hunter's fine illustrates that the league feels "the actions we saw are both unbecoming and unprofessional and won't be tolerated."

"Unbecoming and unprofessional" covers an awful big area. If you are willing to punish Hunter for what he did as "unbecoming and unprofessional," then you'd better be ready to ride the wave and hit every loudmouth, out-of- control coach who demeans the game.

The first step starts on the ice. The quality of refereeing in the OHL is inconsistent.

But that doesn't take away from the fact they remain in charge of the game.

Referees need to begin assessing more penalties for the actions of coaches on the bench.

Whether it's a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty or a gross misconduct leading to ejection, the officials needs to stop taking all the abuse they are taking from game participants. While any gross misconduct penalty is accompanied by an official's explanation, so should a two-minute bench penalty. Abuse of an official would be an appropriate tag to hang on that penalty.

That gives the league an opportunity to keep an eye on the referee-baiters and chronic complainers.

Which brings us to why refereeing is often inconsistent. Some officials referee as if they are afraid, as if they are more worried about the reaction they'll get during a game and whether complaints will find their way to their bosses, rather than doing the best job they can.

Referees need to be assured that if they begin tossing coaches for their boorish behaviour, the league will be there to support them.

If a coach deserves to get thrown out because his language was inappropriate, then that coach needs to be suspended or fined for his actions. Don't leave a referee hanging by not suspending a coach who gets tossed late in a game, with his team losing by four goals.

Hunter has paid for what he's done. But don't overlook the obscenity-laden tirades of other coaches because those actions may not be as obvious or as colourful. If the goal is to stop unbecoming and unprofessional behaviour, then do it across the board.

Come to think of it, the league could stand to take a look at the actions of everyone else on the bench as well. There's no lack of unbecoming and unprofessional behavior there either.


Videos

Photos