League ruling crushes River Rats playoff hopes

Carole Morris-Underhill
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Updated Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m.

The Avon River Rats had their Nova Scotia Jr. C Hockey League playoff dreams cut short Saturday as the league made an about-face, reversing its Friday night ruling granting the hometown team two points.

On Friday, Feb. 1, the River Rats needed to defeat the Spryfield Silver and Black Attack in order to still be in the running for a playoff position. The rink was evacuated about halfway through the third period after River Rat Corey Dewtie hit the sprinkler system with a puck, setting off the sprinkler and sounding the fire alarm. With the score tight – Spryfield led the Rats 2-1 – and the league president on hand, it was agreed to call the game a tie.

“With a tie, somebody has to have the two points, and somebody has to have the one. We flipped a coin for it and we won the toss,” said Head Coach Rick Purcell following the game.

With the win – and two points – it meant the River Rats playoff dreams hinged on the Fundy Phantoms losing their two games on the weekend.

But, by Saturday evening, the league reversed its decision, announcing it on Twitter. The post said, “In consultation with @HockeyNS, last night's game between Avon and Spryfield has been awarded to Spryfield. Final score: Spryfield 2, Avon 1.”

The Nova Scotia Junior C Hockey League president Tom Foley was reached via email on his way to a game Feb. 2.

He confirmed he was in contact with Hockey Nova Scotia and was informed that “the decision made last night was the wrong one, that Spryfield should have been declared the winner as there was two periods of hockey played before the malfunction. The Hockey Canada regulations state that it only needs two periods to constitute a legal game.”

Looking back at the Friday night game in Windsor, the River Rats went up against the third place Spryfield squad. Both teams played an evenly-matched first period. Tyler Cameron opened the scoring for the Silver and Black Attack with 6:10 left in the first. Ben Ross scored the equalizer about two minutes later. It was tied 1-1 when the guys went to the dressing room after the first period.

The second period was hard-hitting, with the teams still relatively evenly paced. Spryfield's Ryan Poirier-Joyce, assisted by AJ Henneberry, was the only one to score in the middle frame, doing so with 6:44 left.

Jesse Lawrence was in nets for the Rats and had the small crowd gathered to watch the game cheering as he made some pretty solid saves. The number of shots on net was not recorded.

The two teams were basically matched for penalties, with Spryfield having 31 penalty minutes plus a game misconduct and Avon accumulating 28 minutes.

“It was a really, really close game. We were playing well enough that the game could've went into overtime and we could've ended up getting a couple of goals late in the game. It could've went any which way,” said Purcell following the match up.

“It was very well played by both teams, actually.”

The league's reversal did not sit well with Purcell when he learned of the ruling on Saturday.

“If the game got cancelled and everybody walked away and the league decided that Spryfield was ahead so they get the two points, I would have had no problem with that because that would have been the right call,” said Purcell in a phone interview Feb. 2.

“Before we left the rink, the tractor was on the ice cleaning up so we could've finished the game,” he added.

Purcell said he wanted to finish the game, but was assured the two points awarded to the River Rats would stand.

“I didn't like it because that was against all hockey regulations. I was not willing to leave, or ready to leave, the rink last night until we finished the game,” he said, adding that he made his concerns well known.

“It was a really, really close game.. we were playing well enough that the game could've went into overtime and we could've ended up getting a couple of goals late in the game. It could've went any which way." Rick Purcell

Purcell said it was the second time in a few days a questionable call was made. He pointed out the Jan. 29 game involving the Fundy Phantoms and South Shore Wild as a prime example. The score sheet on the NSJRCHL website indicates the game was played, but there were no goals, and no penalties. It ended in a shootout.

According to a Jr. C hockey player involved with the Jan. 29 game, the referees arrived with 30 minutes remaining for the teams to play hockey.

When asked if the River Rats would appeal the league's latest decision, Purcell said it was doubtful.

First of all, any appeal costs $350. To go to the appeal process, it's not really a viable option. And, we would lose,” said Purcell, noting that due to the circumstances, Spryfield should have received the two points on Feb. 1.

However, the situation still doesn't sit well with Purcell. He plans to ask questions about the Jan. 29 game and hopes the point awarded to Fundy will be reviewed.

Heading into the weekend, the River Rats and Fundy Phantoms were tied for last place. On Saturday, the Phantoms lost to the Clare Lions, leaving them still tied with the Rats. They had a record of seven wins, 18 losses, one loss in overtime and one more loss in a shootout. Their game scheduled for Feb. 3 was postponed due to the weather. Meanwhile, the Rats won six games, lost 17 and lost four in overtime.

Stay tuned to the Hants Journal for updates as this story unfolds.

Organizations: Nova Scotia Jr. C Hockey League, NSJRCHL, Hockey Nova Scotia Avon River Rats Spryfield Silver and Black Attack Fundy Phantoms

Geographic location: Windsor, Windsor, N.S., Hants County Brooklyn Spryfield Truro Nova Scotia

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