Matt Marotta did what he was supposed to do, like he's done throughout his minor hockey career at the end of a game.
His Viking Construction Tier 1 peewee Cougars had just lost 3-2 in overtime to the Nanaimo Clippers in the fifth-place playoff Sunday at the 43rd annual Coca-Cola Peewee Hockey Classic tournament. Marotta skated out to the blueline, kneeled and waited to shake hands with the Clippers.
But he was all alone. None of his 11-and-12-year Cougar teammates and none of his coaches joined him to uphold that post-game tradition. They'd already left the ice and went to the dressing room.
"He showed the epitome of sportsmanship, he did what was right and not what everyone else was doing," said Garnett Ryshak. "In a minute and 30 seconds, Matt changed the lives of numerous people."
Ryshak, who lives in Vernon, was at the Vernon Civic Centre Sunday after arriving early to watch the Vernon Peewee Vipers play their final game of the season against the KC Lancers from Edmonton for third and fourth place.
There was a delay though. The Clippers were in double overtime, tied 2-2 with their Prince George opponents. The Clippers won a draw in their own zone with less than 15 seconds still showing on the clock in three-on-three overtime.
"A Clipper forward grabs the puck and they are away 2-on-1," Ryshak said, from his home in Vernon. "[They] pass across the slot, a one-timer [on the] short side hits the back of the net."
The Clippers had scored the winner.
According to spectators, a timekeeper forgot to start the clock at the face-off.
"The Cougars disputed the goal and time clock, as it showed 7.5 seconds remaining," Ryshak said. "The referees met and reviewed the goal and time remaining only to deem the goal good.
"It was a celebration for the Clippers. Prince George remained seated on the bench."
Ryshak and the entire crowd were waiting in the stands for the traditional handshakes and awards ceremony.
"The Cougars skated off to their change room, smashing their sticks in disgust along the way without honouring their opponents [with] the traditional handshake," he said. "I could not believe what I was seeing. Nanaimo could not believe what they were seeing, the Prince George players parents could not believe what they were seeing. This was not the way the game is supposed to end.
"Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Matthew kneeling. Nanaimo surrounded him, it was just like he scored the game-winning goal. We all stepped back and cheered, 'way to go number 2.'"
Ryshak, was emotional in the stands as he watched Marotta mobbed by the Clippers.
"I shook his [Matt's] dad's hands, we had tears streaming down our faces and we're both grown men. It was a touching moment. I'd never seen anything like this and had never seen a kid stand up like he did. Matt stood by what's right."
Prince George Minor Hockey Association president Alec Hartney said there could be disciplinary action handed to the team's coaches as a result of their conduct in Vernon but the minor hockey executive will not make any decision until the incident is thoroughly investigated.
"I don't really want to comment until we get all the facts straight," said Hartney. "We want to talk to the parents who were actually at the tournament to figure out what actually happened.
"I know everyone says the coaches should be fired, but I can't jump out and say 'you guys are done.' Were they yelling and screaming? I can't answer that because I don't know that. Coaches get heated. Look at John Tortorella. We're trying to resolve it as soon as possible.
"It's unfortunate this got into the media. If they would have shook hands, none of this would have happened."
Hartney said although the minor hockey executive met Monday and Tuesday nights, the purpose of those meetings was to review the policy manual, not to discuss the incident in Vernon. On Wednesday night, Hartney planned to interview all of the parents who attended the game to get their version of what happened before the executive makes any ruling on possible disciplinary action.
"We could give them a suspension but that doesn't really do anything because they can still go out and practice with the team, they don't have any games until provincials [at spring break],'" said Hartney.
"It doesn't look good on Prince George and it doesn't look good on Prince George minor hockey. All this came to light Monday afternoon and Tuesday. We're volunteers and we have to work during the day and deal with this stuff when we have free time in the evening. Hopefully by the next two or three days it's done."
Cougars head coach Ryan Arnold said nothing about what happened as he left practice at Kin 3 rink Tuesday night.
"No comment," he said as he walked away.
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