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Criminal charges for beer league hockey hits could ‘chill’ participation

Greg Wyshynski
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Gordon MacIsaac is a 31 year old that’s nearly completed a PhD in aerospace engineering. In his free time, he’s enjoyed playing rec league hockey in associations like the Ottawa Senior Men’s Hockey League. 

He’s also now on probation for 18 months and $5,000 lighter for a hit he delivered in a beer league game two years ago.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, MacIsaac was convicted of aggravated assault for a collision with Drew Casterton, 31, in a March 2012 men’s league game. Along with the fine, MacIsaac is banned from possessing a weapon, had to provide a DNA sample and is prohibited from playing or coaching a competitive sports team for 18 months.

Keep in mind this is a no-contact league. From the OSMHL rule book:

Deliberate body contact is not permitted anywhere on the ice. Any collisions or contact will be strictly a referee judgment call based on the following definition of contact: No player is entitled to use his body to intentionally body-check or bump an opponent.”

From the Citizen, a familiar he said/he said for hockey fans:

Witnesses for the prosecution said Casterton was coming out from behind the net as MacIsaac was rushing in. Witnesses on the victim’s team said that with 47 seconds left in the game, MacIsaac’s feet left the ice and he hit Casterton’s head, snapping it back. Casterton lost consciousness and fell to the ice.

Jonathan Desjardins, a referee at the game, testified that both Casterton and MacIsaac were rushing toward the puck behind the net when the collision happened. “What I saw, clearly saw, is (MacIsaac) jumped off the ice, “Desjardins testified. “His skates left the ice, arms in the high position, making contact with the victim.” 

Desjardins testified that three players from Casterton’s team skated over to where the referee was helping the victim. The players told the referee that MacIsaac skated in front of the other team’s bench and said he got Casterton back for an earlier hit. However, McCann argued that MacIsaac didn’t say anything about payback for an earlier hit to any of Casterton’s teammate.

The hit left Casterton with broken teeth, a concussion and scarring on his face. He has a $600,000 lawsuit filed against MacIsaac and the Ottawa Senior Men’s Hockey League for the aftereffects of the hit, included lost wages.

Patrick McCann, MacIsaac’s lawyer, said suits like these are bound to have players thinking twice about participation, according to the Citizen: “It will inevitably create a chilling effect on anybody that considers playing recreational hockey.”

Well, yeah, but the real question is who is doing the chilling?

MacIssac delivered a hit in a non-contact league, leaving his skates according to the on-ice official, with 47 seconds left in a game. The description of it sounds like something you can almost hear Brendan Shanahan intoning before added the word “launched” and handing out a lengthy suspension.

Do we want to see actions on the ice end up in the courtroom? Not necessarily, and we agree that a hit during the game – even in a non-contact league – is a slippery slope for future litigation. It could, and probably will, affect the way games are played in the OSMHL going forward.

But potential litigation isn’t going to chill participation, because players that expect to deliver those kinds of hits aren’t going to be lacing up for a no-contact men’s league anyway.

The chilling effect comes from players like MacIssac, delivering flying forearms to unsuspecting opponents with 47 seconds left in a game.

Participation in hockey, especially at the youth level, has seen some declines. It’s not the litigation that’s the cause, but rather the cause for that litigation that has a chilling effect. 

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