Coach has shirt ripped off in brawl that results in 28 games in suspensions

Stan Temming
·5 min read
All hell broke loose on Sunday after Andre Niec, the head coach of the Federal Prospects Hockey League's Carolina Thunderbirds, tried to fight Jerome Bechard, head coach of the Columbus River Dragons. (Twitter/@worldhockeyrpt)
All hell broke loose on Sunday after Andre Niec, the head coach of the Federal Prospects Hockey League's Carolina Thunderbirds, and Jerome Bechard, head coach of the Columbus River Dragons, tried to fight each other. (Twitter/@worldhockeyrpt)

The Federal Prospects Hockey League just continues to outdo itself.

Last April — when the minor professional hockey loop was known as just the Federal Hockey League — one of its goaltenders attacked a fan that poured a drink on him moments after a hotly-contested playoff contest. Then, in late January of this year, Brody Duncan of the Mentor Ice Breakers was suspended for the remaining 25 games of the regular season and playoffs for purposely blasting a puck into the opposition’s bench.

However, what occurred between the Carolina Thunderbirds and Columbus River Dragons at the Winston-Salem Fairground Annex on Sunday may, simply put, be one of the most outrageous scenes to occur during a professional hockey game in recent memory. When all was said and done, 28 games worth of suspensions were handed out to nine individuals, two of them coaches.

With the score out of hand, the game followed

The two sides were already engaged in a heated battle over the weekend that had seen a couple of fights and a number of penalties. With the Thunderbirds up 7-2 midway through the third period, things finally boiled over. And while tensions were high on the ice, they didn’t compare to what was happening near the benches.

After plenty of words were exchanged between Carolina’s head coach Andre Niec and Columbus’s head coach Jerome Bechard, they both stepped onto the ice looking to settle things with their fists.

You almost have to watch that clip twice to absorb all that happened in those 86 seconds.

First, two grown men ripped their suit jackets off, desperately wanting to exchange knuckles. Then, Nicholas Wright of the River Dragons (No. 4 in white) challenged Niec (in the purple dress shirt) to a bout. After Niec walked away, some pushing between the two sides resulted in a brawl right in front of Columbus’s bench and plenty of punches thrown.

Meanwhile, at center ice, another brawl began. Moments after that, all four of the players — two aside — who were already in the penalty boxes for previous infractions jumped back onto the ice and began mixing things up in different areas of the playing surface.

Thunderbirds head coach loses shirt in melee

The many skirmishes going down just served as sideshows for the main event happening simultaneously on the River Dragons’ bench, though. Once Niec saw the brawl begin to transpire near the opposition’s bench, he jumped right in to defend the members of his team involved. Due to the vast number of players and officials that had their backs to the game camera at the time, the madness on the bench couldn’t be properly seen (or should I say “appreciated”) by those watching at home.

Thankfully, members of the audience pulled out their phones and began filming the magic before their very eyes.

Despite not being in any equipment, Niec was right in the thick of everything until he had that purple dress shirt ripped off of him.

Again, this is a reminder that within about of minute of challenging Bechard to a donnybrook, Niec — the head coach of the Carolina Thunderbirds — found himself getting pummelled by members of the Columbus River Dragons while standing on their bench.

You really can’t make this stuff up.

Over 100 penalty minutes and nine suspensions assessed

In total, 133 minutes in penalties were handed out during that single stoppage. That total included seven fighting majors and nine 10-minute misconducts. By the time the final buzzer sounded in Carolina’s 9-3 victory, 173 penalty minutes had been distributed by the game’s officials.

It took the league three days to review all the footage and announce the suspensions that stemmed from the range of incidents. Of the 28 games worth of suspensions dealt out on Wednesday, Niec getting slapped with eight of them definitely jumped off of the page.

The suspension was originally for 12 games, but the 37-year-old had it reduced “with an undisclosed probation period attached,” according to the league’s website. Per a release by the River Dragons, if Niec violates that probation “the remaining four games must be served.”

He has coached the Thunderbirds for the last three seasons and even played in two games this year.

“I was only acting in defense of my player,” said Niec via Carolina’s press release in reference to what he saw as Columbus’s Wright going after Thunderbirds’ defenseman Mike Baker during the tussle near the bench. “I did not intend for anything to escalate to that level and I apologize for the incident’s effect on the league and its member teams.”

Bechard, the River Dragons head coach, received a three-game suspension while Wright (the Columbus player that tried to fight Niec) got a five-game ban.

“After three games in three nights against the same team, emotions will always run high getting closer to the playoffs,” Bechard said, according to Columbus’s aforementioned press release. “But during that weekend lines were crossed and it was regrettable for all involved. Unfortunately the hotter heads got the better of the situation on Sunday and we all have to learn from our mistakes...”

Of the 11 contests remaining on Carolina’s regular-season schedule, five of them are against Columbus. Unfortunately, due to the threat of the coronavirus, the Federal Prospects Hockey League — like countless sports organizations around the world — postponed its season indefinitely this week.

The fact that the Thunderbirds and River Dragons may not meet again in the near future might just be a blessing in disguise, though.

It would really take something special to top whatever you want to call last weekend’s events.

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