Hardly a bastion of civility, there’s still an unwritten code of conduct in the locker room of any sports team.
That invisible line was crossed by Western Royals ex-captain Nathan Saunders, according to team president Ross Coates, and the hockey club was left with no choice but to part ways with the import defenceman on Monday.
“There was unprofessional conduct in the dressing room that we couldn’t tolerate, we couldn’t handle what was going on there,” Coates said Wednesday night. “It was against our code of ethics in our dressing room and around our organization.
“It doesn’t matter if it was the first game of the year or the last game of the year or the middle of the playoffs,” he added. “The decision was made that it was not something we were going to tolerate from anybody. That was the main decision behind (cutting Saunders).”
Coates wouldn’t elaborate on what the issue was, other than to rule out anything like hazing. He also disputed “rumours” that Saunders was a “cancer.”
“Nathan was never a cancer in our room, by no means,” he said. “Nathan was nothing like that whatsoever. It was just something that happened that was inappropriate.”
He said he saw the incident in question occur once, which was enough to force his hand. He was unaware if it was something that was happening habitually.
“Once I see something I’m not happy with, then I’m going to deal with it,” Coates said.
Any trouble with Saunders would likely be recent, since the team named him captain in place of the injured Steve North in January.
Out for the season, North has since assumed the head coaching job in place of the departed Ed Kearsey, who resigned Sunday. Both Kearsey and Coates have said his departure was based on a disagreement regarding the team’s direction.
Coates now admits the decision to remove the team captain from the locker room was the catalyst for Kearsey’s resignation.
“That was mainly the issue, I would say yes,” he said. “I guess he probably didn’t agree with how we dealt with the situation, he probably thought we could have been a bit more lenient. But from our point of view, absolutely not.
“I still respect Eddie, Eddie did a good job for us, but he took a strong stance on this one, as did we as an organization.”
Saunders’ status as an import, or his role as team captain, were not factors in the decision to release him, though Coates acknowledged those who wear the “C” on the jersey are often held to a higher standard.
“He should be the most professional guy in our room,” he said. “He should be a guy that the town and community can look up to.”
Upon receiving word of his release, Coates said Saunders was “like anybody when you tell them they just lost their position, he was quite upset,” but felt he handled it “once again, in a very unprofessional way.”
“You don’t spread rumours all over the place over it,” he said. “It’s not necessary.
“I don’t want to tarnish Nathan in any way, I wish him all the best, but we have to move on,” he continued. “We have bigger things to worry about right now.”
Despite repeated attempts, The Western Star was unable to reach Saunders by telephone before press time.
In related news, the Royals anointed 26-year-old defenceman Stephen Simms as the new captain on Wednesday. Darren Langdon, Justin Barbour and Chris Peach will continue to serve as alternates.
The Royals meet the Gander Flyers this weekend for the first two games of the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League West Division best-of-five semifinal, which are slated for 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.