Incidents can happen quickly on the ice, no matter what level of hockey is being played.
“Oh, absolutely,” said Craig Gardner, who has helped run the Corner Brook Molson Recreational Hockey League for the past 15 years until stepping away after this past season.
“I’ve done it, it’s happened to myself and friends of mine, where we’ve collided and been dazed,” Gardner continued. “Whether it’s rec league or the NHL, you’re still working hard.
“It’s supposed to be for fun, but everyone wants to win and stuff happens.”
Last week, an Ottawa judge handed out a rare assault conviction to a recreational hockey player for an on-ice collision. Gordon MacIsaac, 31, was sentenced to 18 months probation after he collided with Drew Casterton, also 31, in March 2012.
Both men play in the Ottawa Senior Men’s Hockey League, a recreational non-contact league where bodychecking is banned, but incidental contact can occur frequently.
MacIsaac’s lawyer, Patrick McCann, said the incident was accidental. He said players on Casterton’s team viewed it as a vicious hit, while the teammates of MacIsaac saw it as incidental contact between two players skating fast.
Casterton was knocked unconscious on the play and told the court he suffered serious physical effects and a loss of income.
MacIsaac was convicted of aggravated assault by Ontario Court Justice Diane Lahaie and ordered him to pay Casterton $5,000. Casterton is also suing MacIsaac and the league itself for $600,000.
While nothing that drastic has occurred in the Corner Brook league, which has also banned body contact and slapshots, Gardner said there have been some unfortunate incidents. One collision he recalled ended the playing days of a man who was still competing in his 60s.
“They turned the same way and ran into each other,” he said. “It was nothing too serious, but he couldn’t play anymore.”
He also said a cross-checking incident last season got fairly heated and he believes something like that could conceivably end up in a courtroom if it was warranted.
“If someone ended up having their neck broke or jaw broke, sure, I could see it,” he said.
The Ontario judge relied on the testimony from one referee who took the stand, according to MacIsaac’s lawyer, which led to the conviction.
“It seems harsh, but it must have been a blatant hit,” Gardner said. “If that decision came down, it had to have been malicious.”
Gardner stressed he didn’t know the specifics of the Ontario league, but said nobody pays insurance in the Corner Brook setup, which puts the onus on the players to look out for one another.
“It’s scary, but you’re still responsible for your actions,” he said.