EIHL Disciplinary Growing Pains

The Elite League is now in its tenth year and like a child of the same age it seems to be entering a difficult adolescence. One in which arguments are frequent and the toys are thrown out of the pram on a regular basis. In the past couple of weeks we have seen coaches publicly berate referees, a team walk off before the traditional man of the match presentation and a group of players pounce on an opposing player at the final hooter.

Having to deal with these tantrums as mother is head of discipline Simon Kirkham and he will have to walk a very tight line if he is to keep the fans on board and maintain the authority of the league.

It is a very hard task given that already this season Kirkham has had several incidents to deal with and they have not all been dealt with firmly. Going back to the summer and the introduction of the social media policy, Kirkham and the disciplinary panel have rather failed to deal with abuses. Most notably in the case of former Cardiff Devils forward Devin Didiomete who persistently used twitter to abuse fans as well as other teams and officials yet was only ever fined by the league and the Devils warned about his actions.

Then there has been the spate of player/ fan altercations where Kirkham has rather waivered. He came down hard on the Cardiff Devils following an incident where a fan broke through and pushed Coventry’s Benn Olson, Coventry’s coach Paul Thompson was fined for his comments to fans following a game and an altercation between a fan and Sheffield’s John De Caro after their Challenge Cup quarter final 1st leg defeat has gone uninvestigated.

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Meanwhile on the ice incidents are seemingly getting more serious in nature and after a whistle or hooter. The afore mentioned fan incident in Cardiff was preceded by an on ice brawl and in that case Kirkham handed out a total of 16 games worth of bans to Cardiff players. It was a stern telling off but one which has not been followed up. Kelsey Wilson’s baseball swing on Simon Ferguson after a whistle was only given a 3 game ban whilst for a 4-man attack by the Sheffield Steelers on a Dundee Stars player no additional punishments were handed out.
These are all incidents that have left fans confussed as to what the discipline rules are and wondering when these antics will end. It has left Simon Kirkham as the head of discipline with a headache but he has got a chance to exhort his authority. How Kirkham deals with the Coventry Blaze after their post final hooter brawl and walk off on Tuesday night could determine how the league is viewed and how discipline is viewed for the rest of the season if not beyond. The main question could now be where does Kirkham go after a warning has been given?

With these incidents becoming more and more common it is not a minor issue any more and if Kirkham fails to deal with it he will lose the respect of players, coaches, owners and not just the fans.

Neil Tucker

Neil has written on ice hockey for many websites concentrating on British ice hockey mostly. Neil also covers ice hockey in other countries and organises his Blueliner Hockey Tour. A graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University Neil turned his hand to hockey writing in 2009. As well as contributing on Blueliner Hockey Neil has contributed to Get Real Hockey and Slapshot Magasine.

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