DOPS ban row: Fife Flyers Tom Coolen - 'what the hell is this league thinking?'

Two coaches caught up in the moment of heated disagreements with referees. One gets a ban, one a fine.
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Every misdemeanour may be different, even if they do share many similarities in words and deeds, but the perception of a lack of consistency from the Department of Player Safety (DOPS) continues to grind. Ask any coach or player what they want when it comes to discipline and they will tell you - a level playing field. In ice hockey, that field continues to be skewed, leaving them - and fans - frustrated and angry.

Tom Coolen’s post-game criticism of DOPS will almost certainly lead to a slap on the wrists. Disciplinary bodies in all sports are incredibly thin skinned when it comes to dissent - but he was right.

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Coolen was banned for one game after being thrown out of Fife Flyers’ game at Nottingham earlier this year. Cardiff Devils’ Peter Russell was ejected and fined. Same rink, same bench, different outcomes. Maybe there is something in the water down in the Lace City ...

Tom Coolen didn't hold back in his criticism of DOPS actions (Pic: Derek Young)Tom Coolen didn't hold back in his criticism of DOPS actions (Pic: Derek Young)
Tom Coolen didn't hold back in his criticism of DOPS actions (Pic: Derek Young)

In Coolen’s case he argued from distance as the referee didn’t seem remotely inclined to move from the middle of the ice pad, despite the coach clearly indicating he couldn’t hear.. The water bottle he tossed in the air barely made it to the pad. Russell went head to head with the stripey - a good old fashioned in your face debate to the delight of the Panthers’ fans behind the bench who filmed it all - slammed the gate shut twice, and, when he was tossed, hurled the bottle on to the pad. Many coaches have been there before.

“What the hell is this league doing?” a clearly frustrated Coolen asked in his post-game interview on Friday. “Nothing against Pete, but I didn't get in the referee's face, and didn't throw a bottle in anyone's direction, and yet the powers that be give me a game ban. Pete got a fine but when it came to me, from little Fife, I got a ban - that absolutely baffles me. It is so wrong. What kind of call is that? It just upsets me - how can they make that call? It is ridiculous.”

And it is. Inconsistency still runs through DOPS like a fault line. We have thankfully moved on from the farcical multiple game bans handed out a few seasons back to a much more measured approach - the body certainly gets far more right than it gets wrong - but every so often its deliberations lack obvious logic.

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If Coolen’s actions were worthy of a ban then the same judgement had to follow for Russell, and he’d have served his night in the stands with no fall out. Fife’s coach was fired up on Friday at the perceived lack of consistency before, during and after his interview. This one rankled.

I suspect the outcome might be a fine for bringing the game into disrepute and, maybe even the badge of ‘repeat offender’ pinned on his Flyers jacket. At least then he’d be on parity with Russell who has been put in that exclusive club following his own water-bottle chucking departure. I suspect they’ll share a beer at the play-off finals and have a chuckle at the absurdity of it all, but right now it stings.

The stakes are high for all teams, red mists will descend. All they ask for is parity should a water bottle go flying …