After seeing how referees responded to a recent incident of racism, Kahnawake Minor Hockey Association (KMHA) president Justin Kariwakeron Horne said he feels like their teams are in good hands in their new league, the Eastern Hockey League (EHL).
The Kahnawake association made the decision to switch to the EHL after nearly half of the teams in the Lac St. Louis (LSL) 30 Ouest (LHTO) hockey league refused to play against the U18 Mohawks teams. It came following a fallout from an April game against the St. Polycarpe Soulanges, when fans of the Mohawks were accused of a violent incident. The response struck many in Kahnawake’s hockey community as racist.
When Horne saw one player on the Lachine Rapids making racist gestures at a recent U15A game on Sunday, October 22, he said he was impressed with how the referee handled the situation.
“They dealt with it immediately, and they already suspended the player,” he said, saying that it’s a five-game suspension. “The refs were right on top of it, the league was right on top of it.”
According to Hockey Quebec regulations, any player caught making racist comments or any other taunt of a discriminatory nature is supposed to face a five-game suspension as well as a disciplinary committee investigation, which could result in harsher sanctions depending on the outcome. However, Horne said it’s not a measure he ever saw taken over his years coaching under the LHTO.
“It was just swept under the rug,” he said. “The (suspensions) weren’t given, and it was just as if nothing happened.”
Andrew Maislin, the league manager for the EHL, also part of the LSL region, said they pride themselves on having a zero-tolerance policy that goes above what’s set in Hockey Quebec’s conduct policies.
“The difference is really with the follow-through,” said Maislin, also the vice-president for LSL Hockey. “We just don’t push it to the side, everything is looked into and investigated from everyone’s point of view.”
He said those in the stands, including parents, are also held to a code of conduct just as much as the players and coaches are.
“It’s very important that the kids have a fun and inspiring season, so anything like that we address,” Maislin said, saying such incidents are also often dealt with within the associations before they reach the league. “We can’t control everything, that’s for sure, but we do our best. So far it’s been fantastic, to be honest. I’ve been very excited to have (the KMHA) in the league.”
Just this Tuesday, the Lac St. Louis region put out a statement to coaches and parents reminding them of their zero-tolerance policy on racism, saying there’s been a “resurgence” in suspensions for discriminatory behaviour on the ice.
“Unfortunately, this measure does not seem to be enough to counter this type of behaviour. From now on, Hockey Lac St. Louis reserves the right to impose additional game (suspensions) on players and coaches at fault,” the region’s management and board members wrote. “We must all come together to instil a culture of fair play in our young athletes so that they can thrive while taking part in our beautiful sport.”
Season off to a rough start
Since the first puck drop in mid-October, the KMHA teams have had a slow start against their competitors, losing most games. The U18B team tied 2-2 in their opening game against the St. Laurent Warriors on October 14, and the U15A team defeated the St. Laurent Spartans 5-3 in their October 21 game. Since then, there have been no other wins for the Mohawk teams.
“The U18 teams and the U15A team are the strongest this season,” Horne said, admitting he’s a bit biased since he coaches for both the U18A and U15A teams.
“The kids are having fun and seem to be engaging more and more into what I am trying to teach them, so that’s good,” said Wahsontiio Stacey, the coach for the U18B team. “However, as the kids now know, our record means nothing but math equations until the playoffs begin.”
The U18B team’s next game is on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Kahnawake Sports Complex against the Verdun Broncos. The U15A team will also play the Lasalle Lions there this Sunday at 3 p.m.
The U18A’s next game in Brebeuf is on November 11 against the Lasalle Lions at 6:30 p.m.