TO minor hockey Nova Scotia’s coach has been charged with assault following an on-ice incident during a game this weekend in front of players and fans.

“These children were traumatized. As we left the rink, there were tears and fear on the kids’ faces,” said Melissa Johnson, who witnessed the event.

“It was heartbreaking”

Johnson, as well as a few other people who witnessed the incident, posted about it on social media.

Saturday morning’s game at the Don Henderson Memorial Sportsplex in Brookfield, N.S., was an U11 game, meaning the players were nine and 10 years old.

Johnson said she was at the court at the time waiting for her own son’s game to start. Meanwhile, she watched the game between Cumberland and Brookfield.

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He said that during the second half there was a hit that resulted in a five-minute major penalty. At one point, she threw a cowbell onto the ice and she said she saw the referee throw the cowbell toward Brookfield’s bench.

“Unfortunately, this hit the coach, who took it upon himself to walk to the Amherst bench (…) grabbed the referee and started hitting him,” he said.

Johnson said the referee was punched in the helmet.

Johnson said that at that moment a spectator came down from the stands and also allegedly attacked the referee, leaving the team’s young hockey players “trapped inside their bench” and “crying, hysterical about everything that had happened.”

“We had parents climbing the ice, the glass, the railings, everything to make sure the fight stopped and then trying to get these kids to safety in their dressing rooms,” he said.

Vanessa Craven, whose son plays for Amherst, said she ran to the team bench amid the commotion to help comfort the players.

“I went and stood with our children on the bench, who were all huddled in the back corner crying and very upset. And so I worked to calm them all down and get them to focus on the fact that everything was going to be okay,” she said.

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Coach faces assault charges

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Chris Marshall said police were called to the track Saturday morning, but the coach had already left the arena when officers arrived.

“When our officers arrived, they learned that a coach basically assaulted a referee on the ice during a game that occurred that morning. Fortunately the official was not injured,” he said.

“The coach had already left the facilities before the arrival of our members. “So we contacted him and he agreed to turn himself in to the Stewiacke RCMP detachment.”

Marshall said the man was released on conditions and has been charged with assault.

In a statement posted on its website on Sunday, the board of directors of the South Colchester Minor Hockey Association, to which Brookfield belongs, called it a “difficult day.”

“We appreciate all of our caring coaches, dedicated referees and supportive parents, who make hockey such a positive experience for our players,” the statement read in part.

“We remain the same association, with the same genuine heart and dedication to doing what is best for our children.”

The Board said it was working with “all appropriate organizations as directed to us” and encouraged anyone needing support to get in touch.

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Coach suspended indefinitely

Hockey Nova Scotia confirmed the coach involved has been suspended “indefinitely” pending the results of the RCMP investigation and a review by Hockey Canada’s independent third-party process.

In a statement, Hockey Nova Scotia said counseling was being offered to players and parents from both teams who participated in the game, as well as referees.

Craven, whose son was on the bench for Amherst’s team, said the advice was helpful and appreciated.

“It’s something you would never expect to see in a children’s game. It’s something you should never see in a child’s play,” she said.

“I wouldn’t even expect to see that kind of action in an adult game.”

RCMP said responding to calls about violence at sports games is not uncommon, and Cpl. Marshall advised everyone to be sensible and not resort to violence.

“Every year, there are cases that occur in sports games and not just hockey, in all types of sports games,” Marshall said.

“We understand that people sometimes get a little angry and a little upset if there’s a call that doesn’t go their way. But there are certainly other means and other ways to express your discontent.”

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– with files from Callum Smith of Global News

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