Woodstock hockey officials, parents outraged at ‘unfair officiating’

by | Apr 5, 2024

Woodstock High School submits formal complaint to NBIAA, NBHOA

Provincial championships for the Minor U18 hockey teams were held in Shippigan, NB, on March 22-24, 2024, and the Woodstock Thunder team was excited to participate.

However, excitement turned to frustration and disappointment, as a series of what team fans and officials describe as bad calls, including multiple called-back goals, resulted in the Thunder’s third loss to end their season.

River Valley Sun spoke to Woodstock Thunder team manager and “hockey mom” Christina Turner and hockey veteran Keith Bull, who attended the game against Shippigan, the hosting team. Both Turner and Bull noted three Thunder goals that officials called back in the first period of play.

“The first goal went right in, hit the back of the net, and then came out again. The ref was right there—and he still called it back,” said Turner.

She noted that the game was live-streamed, and those who want to see what happened can easily watch all the goals and calls.

“The second goal was harder for me to see, but the players all say it was a goal.”

Bull, a veteran hockey player, coach, and referee, said following the frustration of the first two non-goals, he closely observed the game from directly behind the net.

He described the third disallowed goal of the period.

“There was a loose puck in front of the net and a scramble. The Woodstock player batted at the puck, and both the puck and the player slid into the net,” Bull explained. “The puck clearly crossed the line, and the player raised his stick, realizing it was a goal. The whistle was then blown. From my position, it was a clear goal – the puck went across the line with the player, and the whistle was not blown until afterwards. But they didn’t count it and just waved it off.”

Turner said Thunder players lost steam after the third goal call went against them. They headed into the third period trailing 6-3.

However, the team rallied, and the Woodstock Thunder tied the game with approximately six minutes left on the clock.

Turner said officials called what she described as two bad penalties against the Thunder in the game’s waning minutes, giving Shippigan a two-man advantage to score the winning goal.

Bull described the penalties.

“The first call should have been two minutes for tripping,” said Bull. “Instead, they called it a four-minute knee-to-knee.”

He described the second penalty as a clean check.

Bull also raised concern about the unusual circumstances surrounding a call against the home team.

“He (the Shippegan player) said or did something to the referee and got ejected from the game,” Bull explained. “He was taken off the ice and sent back to the dressing room. The fans immediately got upset and showed their displeasure. After that, the referees went into a huddle and reversed the call. One of the refs went off the ice and brought him back into the game.”

The player served two minutes in the penalty box and then finished the game. Bull noted that he had never seen that happen in all his years playing, coaching, and officiating hockey.

Turner expressed her frustration on behalf of the players, saying, “All they wanted to do was play hockey,” noting that the officials made that impossible.

Both Turner and Bull feel that the New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletic Association (NBIAA) and the New Brunswick Hockey Officials Association (NBHOA) are to blame for what happened during the game.

They explain their policies for Provincials create the risk of biased officiating, noting that the tournament is held in the hometown of one of the competing teams. They added that all of the officials were from the hometown area.

“The linesman was the captain of the Shippigan team last year, and he played against us in the finals,” said Turner.

She said such circumstances increase the risk of impartial and biased officials.

Outrage from parents, fans, and team members followed the game.

In reaction to the outrage, Turner created a petition asking the NBIAA and NBHOA to provide neutral officials and venues for Provincial tournaments, which is already their policy for basketball.

She shared that this is not the first time there have been issues with biased officiating during hockey tournaments held in non-neutral locations with non-neutral officials.

Turner said last year’s Provincial championships in Grand Falls led to coaches submitting official complaints to NBIAA.

She said she’d been told the NBIAA promised to look into the issue for future Provincials and ensure neutral officials. However, this year’s tournament remained the same.

Bull told River Valley Sun that he wrote a letter to the NBIAA president expressing his concerns over the game and urging the athletic association to follow the tournament format already used by high school basketball.

“The blueprint is already out there; let’s do it for hockey as well,” said Bull. “Draw the officials from the entire province, and don’t put home officials into the games! It’s working well for basketball, and it would work for hockey as well.” Bull said he feels it will happen sooner or later, so he urged the NBIAA to “just do it now so next year these guys have a better hockey experience.”

Bull credited the players for their excellent sportsmanship despite the challenges they faced.

“These young men never gave up,” said Bull. “They demonstrated excellent sportsmanship and never lost their cool. They kept fighting through to the very end.”

Turner noted that the coaches and school administration met at Woodstock High School on March 26. Woodstock High School principal Nicole Giberson told River Valley Sun that she wrote the NBIAA on behalf of the school and the team, expressing their concerns. She also shared that NBHOA is going to review the game officially.

Giberson also praised the Woodstock team.

“They had a fantastic season and [these kids] handle themselves day to day so well. I’m just really proud of them. Regardless of this situation, and even during the situation, they are a class act,” she said.

Turner said that she hopes the petition will help force a change.

“These are just kids,” said Turner. “They work so hard to get there, they deserve a fair game.”

She explained that the petition isn’t about losing.

“We don’t complain about losing games or officials, that’s not what this is about — we take our legitimate losses. I’m not just doing this for my son (who plays) or the team itself. I’m doing this for all the players on all the teams – nobody should have to go through what we did.”

She called the situation unfair to all students.

River Valley Sun made multiple attempts to contact both NBIAA and NBHOA for comments; however, they did not receive any response.

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