(Author’s Note: This editorial is strictly the opinion of the Author, and does not reflect any one or anything associated with him. I don’t have all the facts, but until an official statement is made, nobody does. I am free to my opinion, and give it I shall.)
Dead tired after spending 13 hours either on a plane or sitting around an airport the day before, I settled onto my couch Sunday to unwind, relax, and kind of starting thinking ahead about what I could write for BLH this week.
That eventually led to a nap, and when I woke up, shit had hit the fan in Elmira as my Facebook and Twitter timelines turned into nothing but posts about what had just happened. How Robbie Nichols had pushed a ref and that the game was now being called after just one period of play.
It was such a hectic, chaotic, and just confusing event that you didn’t know where to turn or what all to post about.
All day long I sat there and tried to figure out the emotions that I was feeling about the incident, and for some weird reason, I just kept coming back to angry, which seems insanely weird, given that I have no stake in the league or its teams, other than posting a few times a week about what’s going on.
But just everything that went down Sunday made me angry, and had me typing rambling, heated sentences in the BLH group chat.
Angry that in a year in which nearly everything went right for the FHL, two good expansion teams added, record attendance for three of its teams, and very little on- or off-ice controversy until Sunday, that it was all pissed away in a matter of seconds.
Angry because, as Shawn mentioned in his post, we’ve done a lot here at BLH to try to show that the FHL is a legit hockey league, and that it was doing all it could to move on from its past follies. And then a game that should have been everything hockey fans want: two great teams, an intense rivalry, and two strong groups of fans, it instead turned into a freak-show that has the hockey world pointing and laughing at the FHL again.
Angry, that as someone who has officiated everything from hockey, to baseball, to basketball, football, soccer, and more, that anyone would have the gall to come up and physically go after an official, let alone the owner of a team who has his damn face on the team’s jerseys. Oh and the jerseys and logo they wear were made in honor of law enforcement, and the ref he pushed is a cop for his real job. Oops.
All over what they thought was a missed call, that actually turned out to not be a missed call at all.
I waited to go last in these editorials mainly to collect my thoughts and to cool down, to avoid writing something reactionary where you’re calling for a guy’s head or talking about how this is the death-blow to the FHL.
Let’s start with punishment and what’s next for Nichols.
Nichols is 100% in the wrong here, as long as the ref didn’t attack or harm another player or coach, you absolutely cannot put your hands on an official over what you perceive to be a bad call. But at the same time, the people screaming and yelling that he or the team should be kicked out of the league need to take a step back and realize that’s not happening, and probably doesn’t fit the alleged crime.
And Nichols has apologized for what happened, speaking with ESPN about the incident, so even he knows he went over the line.
I anticipate Nichols will get a very hefty fine, and likely a lengthy suspension for his actions, but both he and the Enforcers are (hopefully) here for the long haul. Now, how that suspension will work, that’s where it gets tricky. Nichols basically owns and operates First Arena, and put a lot of his own time and money into it getting it ready for this FHL season, so I know how you ban him from the arena, but maybe you ban him from ice level or from going near the locker rooms for the rest of the season.
But even worse than what Nichols may or may not have done are the fans cheering on his behavior. There were legit nearly half a dozen Elmira fans I saw on Facebook say something along the lines of, “I’m proud of him for sticking up for our team!” No. Stop right now. Physically going after an official over a bad call is not the answer and should not be celebrated. Let me put it this way: If your kid was playing youth sports and the ref made a bad call, do you go up to that ref at halftime or after the game and push them or threaten them to “stick up” for your kid? No, all that does is make you the parent who got banned from a local rec center or soccer field.
And then there are the people saying this is a death-blow to the FHL.
No, it’s not.
The FHL has done a lot of stupid things in the past, and had a lot of awful things happen on and off the ice, and while this incident is probably in the Top-5 for most embarrassing things that have happened, they have always found a way to come back and keep going.
Now, that’s not to say that this doesn’t hurt the league in the near-term. There have been cities that openly said they would not allow the FHL into town after some of their past transgressions, so maybe a future expansion town sees something like this pop up and thinks, “Nah, we don’t need this brand of hockey in our town.” I’m not saying that’s how I would be thinking, but it’s not far-fetched that a city leader or arena manager could think that way.
And yes, at the moment the league doesn’t have referees schedule to work this weekend’s games, and the refs were advised by the now former head of officiating to quit, so maybe that could affect this weekend’s games But really, I don’t think that’s going to be a major problem going forward. We know of one ref who has quit, and I’m sure there are others, but on that email blast there were over 140 people listed, and I assume not every ref is going to quit, because keep in mind, those refs need to work those games to make money, no matter how little it is in the FHL.
And keep in mind that if the FHL really needs someone to re-schedule officials and sort that out, there’s a guy working in Carolina who used to run the officiating for the USHL, a bigger and better league than the FHL, so I think he could handle the job in a pinch. Hey Scott Brand, how ya doin’?
So to recap, I think Nichols is in the wrong here, but he’s apologized, and I don’t think he or Elmira should be booted from the league. And while it’s certainly an embarrassment for the league, and now on the national scale with ESPN posting about it, it’s not the final nail in the coffin or even close to it.
But it is more ammo for the FHL haters to be able to point to when they want to talk about how much of a joke the league is, and it’s a blow to the FHL’s credibility when they try to say they are on part with leagues like the SPHL.