Cairns on thin ice

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:42 AM ET

Eric Cairns has been kicked out of the United Kingdom's Elite Ice Hockey League playoffs, suspended after an on-ice incident with a referee.

Cairns, who last played for the New York Islanders and now for the EIHL's London Racers, was given a one-game suspension for the March 23 altercation with referee Andy Carson. But Racers owner Roger Black expects a further league review will result in Cairns being banned from the club's remaining round-robin playoff contests.

The 6-foot-6 Oakville-born defenceman had been penalized early in the 5-2 loss to the home Coventry Blaze and argued the five-minute slashing call.

Unconfirmed reports said Cairns slashed Carson's hand and foot before becoming involved in a brawl with Coventry players, including the Maple Leafs' Wade Belak.

But Black played down Cairns' actions and blamed the ref for letting the game get out of hand.

"Eric chased the referee around the ice," Black said. "Unfortunately, the refs are not of a sufficient standard over here. Basically they lose control of games. The players see that hand come up too many times to call a penalty and they get frustrated."

Coventry coach Paul Thompson also was suspended two games for throwing a stick during the brawl.

The Coventry-London game happened as International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel wrote an editorial urging that players in his domain behave during playoffs. He cited recent incidents in Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia and Russia.

"From what I have seen myself and from the reports I have been getting from other leagues, I must draw the conclusion that the image and public perception of our sport is deteriorating," Fasel said. "Teams are constantly criticizing the referees, making them fair game for the media and fans to carry the criticism further. The atmosphere around the playoffs is starting to resemble the one at a Wild West saloon, where unshaved men are exercising frontier justice."

But Black said the recent incidents should not overshadow the contributions National Hockey Leaguers such as Cairns, Belak and Nick Boynton have made all year to the EIHL.

"They bring a strong work ethic," he said. "The lockout has been the NHL's loss, but our gain."


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