Tri-City Americans Coach Rick Kozuback, who admits it was wrong for his team to go into the stands in a 20-minute, stick-swinging brawl with fans, says his players were provoked with insults and flying beer.
Western Hockey League officials indefinitely suspended Kozuback and two of his players, Terry Virtue and Jeff Fancy, after reviewing tapes of the fight that marred the opening game of the league playoffs against the Seattle Thunderbirds at the Seattle Coliseum Saturday night.Five fans were ejected after the brawl and four others arrested. One police officer received a cut mouth, but there were no serious injuries.
Seattle won the game 9-2 and beat the Americans again Sunday, 6-2.
With Seattle leading 6-1 at the 4:08 mark in the third period of Saturday's game, a fight began behind the Tri-City bench. A dozen police officers struggled to restore order as fans and players swung wildly at each other with hockey sticks.
The free-for-all came shortly after a fight on the ice between Darcy Simon of the Thunderbirds and Greg Spenrath of the Americans.
"People were throwing things and hitting the players in the helmets, swearing at them, calling them Tri-Sissies and things like that," said fan Greg Hanson of Richland, who was sitting five rows back. "For 16- to 20-year-olds to have to take that much abuse is incredible."
Jim Weyerman, Coliseum director of marketing, said a security force of 25 uniformed officers was adequate for Saturday's sellout crowd of 12,075. He placed the blame entirely on the Americans and Kozuback.
"Fans making comments to coaches and players is pretty standard not only in hockey but in all sports," Weyerman said.
Kozuback said if he had it to do again, he would have pulled his team off the ice when he received his first beer shower in the first period and insisted the abusive fans be removed.