OHL spitting mad

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

The Ontario Hockey League has a zero tolerance policy on hazing.

Lest there be any doubt, OHL commissioner David Branch yesterday made it painfully clear to the Windsor Spitfires and specifically general manager/coach Moe Mantha. Branch suspended Mantha for 25 games for a hazing incident on the team bus on Sept. 9 and 15 games for a failing to stop a fight between players Akim Aliu and Steve Downie during a practice on Sept. 28.

The club was fined $25,000 and $10,000, respectively, for the incidents. Mantha can return behind the bench after 40 games, but has been suspended from his duties as Spits GM for the balance of the 2005-06 season.

"Any form of hazing must be eradicated," Branch said during a conference call. "There was nothing to go on before (in the form of punishment) and we just felt it was important the sanctions be significant. We wanted to send a message that this is not what the OHL and its member teams are all about."

A message left on Mantha's cell phone yesterday was not returned.

Branch's decision followed a 19-day investigation in which he interviewed Spitfires owner Steve Riolo, Mantha, two assistant coaches, two trainers and 25 players.

What Branch found was disturbing, and he was not impressed with what he saw as a lack of leadership in Mantha, a former NHL defenceman who played for five teams in 12 seasons. Regarding the hazing incident on the bus, Branch acknowledged four players (he refused to say whether they were rookies) were forced to strip and crowd into the washroom of the bus in a ritual known as a "hot box."

Two other OHL general managers told the Toronto Sun on the condition of anonymity yesterday that in their years in the league, they have not witnessed such an incident. As one put it, "The only thing rookies do is load bags into the bus, pick up pucks and carry the skate sharpener." The league mandates that each club post its zero tolerance of hazing in each dressing room.

Mantha's forced time off is not far from the longest in OHL history. Then the coach of the London Knights, Mark Hunter was suspended for a total of 70 games for sending a player on to the ice to fight nearly five years ago.

Branch said the hazing and the fight a few weeks later were not related. But a source said, "All the stuff that happened from the day camp opened right up until that Wednesday (the 28th)added to the tension."

Downie, a first-round pick by the Philadelphia Flyers this summer, was suspended for five games by the Spitfires and has said he will not return to the team. Aliu, Windsor's first-round pick this past spring, was suspended for one game.

"He's okay, but the difficult thing for him is now finding out how he fits in in the dressing room," Aliu's agent, Mark Guy, said. "Right now we are really taking it day by day."

The latest Spitfires saga is not the lone hazing incident in the news. McGill University yesterday cancelled the remainder of the football team's season after an 18-year-old rookie alleged he was sexually assaulted with a broomstick. An investigation by the school concluded hazing occurred but did not find evidence of sodomy.

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THE DEAL WITH ... WINDSOR SPITFIRES

Controversy is a familiar foe of the Windsor Spitfires. Here's a glance at some incidents in recent years:

-- In February 2003, coach Tom Webster resigned after he had a physical confrontation with player Mike James during a practice.

-- In October 1998, forward Jeff Kugel ran amok in a game against Owen Sound. He was later banned from the OHL for life before being reinstated.

-- In 1995, defenceman Ed Jovanovski was charged with sexual assault. The charge was later withdrawn.


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