Hockey dispute spills over to parking lot

Beaver Valley Nitehawks delay Trail SmokeEaters bus from leaving on road trip

The relationship between the Trail Smoke Eaters and the Beaver Valley Nitehawks has historically been a  little rocky, but it may have hit its final obstacle on the weekend.

An impromptu Nitehawk blockade of the Smokies bus as it tried to leave the Cominco Arena Saturday morning has both sides seething.

Nitehawks coach and general manager Terry Jones met with Smokies coach Bill Birks at the Cominco Arena early Saturday morning regarding the release of forward Ryan Edwards.

The 19-year-old Trail native was issued a 30 game suspension effective Dec. 6, as per league rules, for leaving the Smoke Eaters, and Jones was hoping to have him in the lineup for Saturday and Sunday games in Beaver Valley.

The bone of contention arises from the exact date the suspension ended. Jones believes that 30 days ended at midnight on the Friday Jan. 4 – by virtue of December having 31 days – while Birks insists it was midnight on Saturday, Jan. 5.

“Let’s look at what the real issue is here before we address the fact that the Smoke Eaters are trying to deflect from the main issue,” said Jones. “The issue is suspending kids for not wanting to play for the Smoke Eaters. Ryan served his 30 day suspension and deserved to be able to play on Saturday and Sunday. For spite they refused to simply push a button on a computer and made this suspension go for two games longer.”

A heated conversation led to Jones and some of his players protesting what they perceived as a delay in Edwards’ release by standing in front of the Smoke Eaters’ bus as it attempted to leave the Cominco parking lot.

“They were unhappy with the suspension to the Edwards boy,” said Smoke Eater president Tom Gawryletz. “And we had told him he was going to be suspended for a minimum of 30 days which is our league guidelines, and that date was up midnight on Saturday, and they wanted him to play Saturday night and we said, ‘No.”

A matter of 24 hours has become the tipping point, but the dissension between the teams has built steadily over the years.  The Edwards debacle may be the final straw that breaks the back of any future relationship between the two teams.

“In our league we have a coaching committee that recommended to the board of directors that we institute a suspension for any boy that leaves the team or refuses to report in a trade, and unfortunately Ryan wasn’t the first boy . . . it’s just unfortunate that he was a local boy,” said Gawryletz. “It’s not a personal thing on our part, we’re just following the rules.”

The Smokies were particularly concerned about the danger to the Nitehawks players who stood in front of the bus as it went to pull away, however, Jones says there was no danger to his players whatsoever, and wondered what the bus was doing pulling away with people in front of it.

The Smoke Eater board sent letters of complaint to BC Hockey, the KIJHL, the president of the Nitehawks, and the BCHL in response to the action.

“To jeapordize kids lives like that is total stupidity, I don’t care who you are,” Gawryletz added.

The suspension issued the 19-year-old Edwards seemed severe to many, particularly the Nitehawks’  GM and coach, who had encouraged Edwards to play for the Smokies this season, but does not blame the player for having a change of heart.

“Why suspend a kid if he is not wanting to play?” asks Jones. “If he wants to try to get to another team in the BCHL then that is a different story, but . . . if these players want to move down a league why should they be suspended?”

Despite his actions in the heat of the moment, Jones is unapologetic for the protest.

“For us it’s a statement of unity, that we weren’t happy with the way Ryan was treated by the B.C. Hockey League,” said Jones. “The rules about the suspension are foggy and unclear. I asked for clarification and John Grisdale (BCHL commissioner) was very difficult to talk to, would not give great details as to what happens and goes on . . . I went through as much red tape as possible and to me it was very clear the 30 days was up on Friday, Jan. 4.”

Birks issued Edwards’ release Sunday morning at 10:03 a.m. Edwards should be processed Monday leaving him free to join the Nitehawks for the upcoming weekend.

“We were just following the rules, and maybe we should have been a little more lenient because he was a local kid,” said Gawryletz. “But I’m telling you when you’ve lost as many kids as we have and the frustrating part is the way they walk out, they think they run the league, they can go wherever they want.”