The ECHL handed down the harsh discipline that had been expected for the Komets and Jacksonville Icemen.
In total, three players were suspended Wednesday for a total of 28 games, the bulk of it doled out to Icemen captain Emerson Clark for his actions in a 5-4 overtime victory over the Komets, which included 29 penalties for 136 minutes.
Clark was suspended 16 games for his physical abuse of an official and being a repeat offender. Fort Wayne's Chase Stewart was suspended six games for physical abuse of an official and fighting off the playing surface. Fort Wayne's Kyle Haas got six games for fighting off the playing surface.
“I disagree with the length (of our suspensions) and don't necessarily disagree with what (my players) did from the bench because they were protecting their teammates,” Fort Wayne coach Ben Boudreau said. “We never went out seeking to start a brawl, or initiated or instigated starting a brawl. We were trying to win a hockey game. We reacted accordingly to their verbal or physical threats."
The suspended players were also fined undisclosed amounts, as was Fort Wayne goaltender Patrick Munson.
The teams jawed at center ice during warmups; the first period saw fights by Fort Wayne's Stewart, Haas, Matthew Boudens and Gabriel Verpaelst and Jacksonville's Clark, Chris Lijdsman, Dalton Thrower and Ian McKinnon; and things really got out of control in the second period.
Munson was coming off the ice for a delayed penalty when he was charged into by Clark, inciting a brawl in front of the Fort Wayne bench that included Stewart and Haas unleashing a flurry of punches from the bench with an official getting in the fray. Clark refused to be escorted off the ice, tried to break away from a linesman and ultimately pulled the official's jersey over his head.
All of this was fallout from overtime of the Komets' 3-2 victory Thursday, when Jacksonville's Dajon Mingo knocked Fort Wayne's leading scorer, Brady Shaw, out of the game with a head injury. No penalty was called and the ECHL's senior vice president of hockey operations, Joe Ernst, determined that no supplemental discipline was necessary, a particularly sore spot for the Komets.
“We will have to live up to the league's suspension of our players,” Komets president Michael Franke said. “There are always a consequence to these types of situations. Sadly, it should have never come to this. But we can't change that.
“I'm proud of the fact that the guys stood up for each other and I would expect them to do the same if it ever happened again.”
The Komets, who play at the Kalamazoo Wings at Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Friday, are without Shaw (concussion), Brett McKenzie (wrist), Shawn St-Amant (upper body), Brad Morrison (upper body), Max Gottlieb (lower body) and Dylan Ferguson (illness), and losing Stewart and Haas complicates their roster decisions moving forward.
“It's a massive blow,” Boudreau said. “It's the most crucial stretch of the season. It's a kick in the nuts right now. Not only do you (lose) two good defensive, tough players in real important divisional matchups, but they also occupy roster spots. In a 20-man active roster, now they're stuck there. They've got to factor into every single decision. No matter what, for the next three games, we're going to play a man short because we can't take two guys off the salary cap. Their suspensions impact how many guys we can dress and it will have a direct impact on the result of the games.”