NWHL Brawl Proves Lack of Rulebook a Major Issue

Photo Credit: Marwan Shousher

The first Connecticut Whale versus New York Riveters game of the new year proved to be one for the books. Shiann Darkangelo netted her first hat trick, Nicole Stock almost held the Riveters to a shut-out and the NWHL saw its first bench-clearing brawl.

A game that was chippy and rough in the corners to start with turned ugly late in the third period when Madison Packer of the Riveters tangled with Kelly Babstock and Brittany Dougherty, going down hard enough that she could not get herself off the ice without help.

The referees lost control of the game right around the time Packer fell to the ice. No one referee saw the play and had to be directed to Packer by the crowd, who were calling for play to stop. While the Whale were busy scoring left and right on Fujimoto, later replaced by Scrivens for the end of the third, the Riveters saw their hopes of a win, or even a tight game, going down the tubes. The injury to one of the biggest voices in their room was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It quickly unraveled from there, with no GM or Commissioner to stop it, as she had ridden to the hospital with Packer and Whale GM George Spiers (also COO of the league) was not in attendance.

The Whale continued with their physical play against the Riveters, who took umbrage to that when it had already seen a teammate injured in an obvious, miserable fashion.

The Riveters collectively lost their minds. They poured off the bench to protect their captain and in doing so, committed what would be a suspendable offense in the NHL.

“I would just say the third period got pretty bad,” said Whale captain Jessica Koizumi. “They took a lot of kids off the bench and joined the brawl and we didn’t. We’re trying to be smart on suspensions and those kinds of things and I don’t really know what the rules to this point because they keep changing, but you know, they didn’t have anybody in the box. There’s kids who came off the bench and started throwing punches.”

“I think video will be a telling story at the end of the day,” Koizumi continued. “There should be (suspensions); if someone throws a punch to the head it should be an automatic suspension and I’m proud of our team for holding back and staying smart about the situation.”

The Whale didn’t necessarily stay smart, as Micaela Long ended up leaving the game with a five-minute major for instigating the brawl. However, head coach Jake Mastel managed his bench better than Riveters head coach Chad Wiseman managed his own, with most of the Riveters leaving the bench to join in the melee on the ice.

“I think that we just needed to stick to our game plan. Once we started taking shortcuts then we started getting frustrated because we weren’t getting the results we wanted. It just really devolved from there,” said goaltender Jenny Scrivens. “Once a game looks like it’s going n this direction, where it’s really rough and aggressive, it’s really hard to stop it. It was a good learning lesson for us.

“We’re really cool and calm and collected in the locker room and then we go back out there and we try to stay that way but it doesn’t always happen,” said Scrivens.

The referees played a part in letting that game get out of hand, as Whale defeseman Molly Engstrom, who is recently back from her own suspension, pointed out.

“It’s not easy to watch. I think, from my experience, my personal experience, there were conversations that I had about the reffing and just controlling the game,” said Engstrom. “Like we saw again tonight, if we don’t control the game, the players are going to take it into their own hands and someone’s going to get hurt.”

The NWHL’s Department of Player Safety will likely need to review the game and multiple plays to assess whether suspensions are necessary, and if so, who has earned one. The NWHL relies on Patrick Burke of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety to review plays for them.

“The NHL Department of Player Safety is regularly consulted by other sports leagues from around the world to discuss policies, procedures, and insight into specific plays,” Burke told Today’s Slapshot previously. “I am more than happy to continue to assist the NWHL and NWHL Players’ Association in reviewing plays and in establishing a thorough and effective league-wide policy to ensure player safety.”

At the previous hearings held by the Department of Player Safety, NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan, NWHLPA Director Erika Lawler, Patrick Burke from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety and representatives from the NWHLPA who did not partake in the game where each incident was in question were in attendance. As both the Commissioner and Riveters’ GM, Rylan will likely not be able to involve herself at the hearings to avoid the appearance of impropriety and to ensure that any supplemental punishment handed out is given without bias.

Suspensions need to be handed down, without a doubt. But whether the league will be able to do so is the question.

Section XXIX, subsection Fighting, H reads:

The first player from either team to leave the players’ bench or penalty box during a player confrontation on ice will be assessed a double-minor penalty and an automatic game-misconduct penalty. Subsequent players who leave the players’ bench during a player confrontation will be assessed a misconduct penalty. Subsequent skaters who leave the penalty box during a player confrontation will be assessed a minor and game-misconduct penalties. These penalties will be served at the expiration of all previous penalties. The act alone of leaving either the players’ bench or penalty box constitutes a violation of these rules, even if the players do not engage in fighting once they are on the ice.

While the rulebook states that clearing the bench to fight is worth a suspension, the rulebook has been pulled from the NWHL’s site.  Players can indeed make the case that they did not know they couldn’t leave the bench to join the fight. This is where the league’s youth and small staff is exposed. Scrivens mentioned this was a learning lesson for the Riveters, but it is, in fact, a learning lesson for the league. They need a comprehensive rulebook on their site and they need it quickly.

The Whale and Riveters will face each other again in a week’s time.

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