Langley Knights co-owner, general manager, and head coach John Craighead has offered his take on Thursday’s bench-clearing brawl at the George Preston Recreation Centre, that has the RCMP involved.
Craighead’s junior B Knights were trailing the Mission City Outlaws 9-3 when the donnybrook broke out at the 2:23 mark of the third period.
The bench clearing incident resulted in 263 penalty minutes and the ejection of several players, and the game was halted at that point.
While several players were fighting on the ice, Craighead, himself, got involved in an altercation.
“First and foremost, I would like to clarify that what transpired during the game was deeply upsetting to myself, as a coach, our entire team, parents and our fans,” Craighead wrote, in an email sent to the Advance Saturday night. “This is not the type of behaviour we would like to be getting media recognition for when we strive to be a well-rounded and respectful team.”
Craighead disputed claims that people were placed under arrest, and further “put in police car(s)”.
“This is completely unfounded and entirely untrue. The police were contacted concerning the events of that evening, and did take statements from those persons whom were involved in the incident,” Craighead wrote. “We, as a team, trust that the RCMP will do their best to handle this situation with the respect and due-diligence that is required of them.”
(According to Langley RCMP Cpl. Holly Largy, a Langley Knights coach was arrested, but not charged. There is still an investigation ongoing into the incident. No one else was detained).
Craighead built a lengthy professional career on hard-nosed play and toughness. His career spanned 13 years and saw him play for 16 teams spanning eight leagues and four countries. As well, Craighead played five NHL games for the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1996-97 and a handful of pre-season games as a member of the Vancouver Canucks in the fall of 2002.
Now he’s one of two owners of the Knights, who play in the Pacific Junior Hockey League.
“I do recognize that my personal former career in professional hockey has become somewhat of a side story to this particular event, but would like to be perfectly clear that my role as the ‘enforcer’ 12 years ago (in a completely different professional context) does not condone the actions, by either team, that took place on Thursday night,” Craighead wrote. “The type of game I played as a professional is not the type of game I want my players to be involved in now. It is well known within the league that aggressive goon type hockey is no longer the norm and I, as a coach, could not be more supportive of this general trend.”
He continued, “It is easy to assume that my role as the ‘enforcer’ would influence the level of aggression I would attempt to instill in my players, but I want to personally assure you this is not the case. I do not have any players on my roster that fill that role.”
Craighead noted that he had 11 rookies in his lineup while Mission City had 15 returning players, adding that because he treats his players like his own kids, emotions boiled over.
“When unnecessary aggression is shown towards my players, I reacted as any parent would,” Craighead wrote. “The incident that occurred on Thursday night sent five of our players directly to the hospital, some players are facing injuries that will directly impact their hockey careers for the rest of their lives. I am personally, terribly upset about the incident and the serious consequences we now face as a team. I have apologized to my players and their parents, and I take full responsibility for the part that I played as a coach by leaving our bench. At that time, I felt genuine fear for the safety and bodily health of my players.”
Craighead said the Knights will “respect the final decisions of the League and the RCMP and hope for a timely and fair investigation. Further more, I would appreciate if the media could [refrain] from scandalizing the game/League and making false accusations while we await the facts of the incident to be revealed.”
When contacted via email, Outlaws team owner and general manager, Scott Kieler, responded with “no comment,” with regards to the incident.
Knights’ struggles continue
On Friday, just one day removed from the incident, the Knights travelled to Maple Ridge to take on the Ridge Meadows Flames and, with a depleted lineup that included just 14 players and a 16-year-old, affiliate goaltender, lost 7-1 to the Flames, dropping the Knights’ record to 1-4-0-1.
Even with the skeleton crew, the Knights still levied 35 shots on Ridge Meadows goaltender Jason Sandhu, who was making his first start with the Flames.
Langley hosts the Aldergrove Kodiaks Monday at the GPRC. Game time is 7 p.m.