The staged fight at center ice? That was fine.
The fact that Matt Puntureri of the Danville Dashers and Jesse Felton of the Dayton Demonz shared a hug and saluted the crowd instead of throwing punches? Embarrassing, but not egregious.
But when Puntureri took a can of beer out of his pants on the ice and took a swig while toasting his opponent, Federal Hockey League commissioner Don Kirnan said he went too far. Even for hockey.
“Obviously the biggest problem was bringing alcohol on the ice,” he said. “If they would have just hugged each other at the end of the season … bringing the beer on the ice is what we’re upset about.”
The stunt fight went viral last weekend, both giving the FHL more exposure and ridicule than it had ever received. Puntureri and Felton were suspended indefinitely by the FHL, forcing Felton to miss the league’s playoffs.
Puntureri told Sports Illustrated that he believes he’ll be banned for life from the FHL. Kirnan said the league’s owners will meet in the spring to determine if either player is ever allowed back in the FHL.
“Just for this year right now. We’ll talk in the offseason,” he said.
He said the stunt negatively impacts the perception of the league and its players, affecting everything from luring in potential new owners to the four-team league and advancing players to higher levels of pro hockey.
As it is, he said, the league’s owners are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to put teams on the ice and losing money; this stunt was “obviously disrespectful of team ownership.”
(Keep in mind that Dayton and Danville are owned by the same man.)
Kirnan said he hasn’t really talked with Puntureri about the stunt, saying the incident is “too hot” right now for rational discourse.
So why did the player do it?
Puntureri told the National Post that he and Felton planned to stage the fight a week before the game, as the old friends were ready to give Puntureri a send-off. (He may play in Europe next season.)
Puntureri smuggled the beer to the bench in the third period in his glove. Some of his teammates were aware of the stunt. He told the Post that he slipped the beer into his pants before the shift against Felton, but that the two hastily ended their “fight” when he felt the beer slipping down his pant leg.
He told Sean FitzGerald that it was intended to be a lighthearted joke at the end of the season.
“I know the owner of the team wasn’t very happy,” he said. “And I understand a lot of the people that would say I was making a mockery of the game. I can understand that argument. But that wasn’t my intention at all.”
Kirnan’s not exactly laughing.
“I’m not really happy the way things worked out,” he said. “It’s pretty disrespectful. Our owners are thinking, ‘I’m losing money for this?’”