MACON, Ga. — At the end of the first period of a contentious game between the defending Presidents Cup champion Macon Mayhem and the Peoria Rivermen, the team Macon defeated in last season’s final, referee Cole Ruwe had enough. The night before, an affair in Birmingham between the Bulls and the Rivermen which spiraled out of control, a game which Ruwe – a former Rivermen captain – drew pointed criticism from his former coach, Jean-Guy Trudel.
In a game where the only prize at stake is to draw two points closer to SPHL-leading Pensacola, the infractions – and goals – in the first game since the 2017 Presidents Cup Final between the Mayhem and Rivermen came quickly. After Peoria captain Dave Pszenyczny was called on back-to-back stick fouls early in the opening frame, seemingly glaring at Ruwe, one could sense an escalation in physicality imminent and the possibility of Ruwe losing administrative control of the contest early.
After Mike Moroso‘s power play goal ended Pszenyczny’s second stint in the sin bin, Mayhem captain Daniel Gentzler got into the action with a hooking call which led to Keegan Bruce‘s first goal of the day. After Bruce’s second goal, the Mayhem’s second power play goal by Dennis Sicard, and Mike Gurtler‘s first goal of the day; the game quickly descended into chaos.
Along the far boards near the Mayhem bench, Pszenyczny dropped Mayhem forward Dylan Denomme as he was breaking out of the zone with the puck and appeared to slash at Denomme while he was down. It turns out, Pszenyczny was reaching for the puck along the boards. Gentzler, without the benefit of a high camera angle, immediately engages Pszenyceny and a melee ensued in front of the Mayhem bench.
In most other SPHL games, the fracas would have resulted in a minor for Pszenyczny for slashing, and a double minor to Gentzler for roughing. Ruwe, looking to restore order, lowered the boom on the Mayhem captain and dished out a slashing minor, a fighting major, and an ejection from the game. Order restored, right?
Wrong. At the conclusion of a first period featuring four power play goals – two by each team – and 31 penalty minutes, Mayhem coach Kevin Kerr and Trudel jawed at one another as the two begin heading to their respective locker rooms. The verbal altercation continued for several seconds, the two bench bosses being kept apart by officials and players. By this time, Ruwe had seen enough and ejected both coaches from the contest.
The final penalty tally of the opening period, eight minors, a major, and three ejections for a total of 51 penalty minutes. The question, however, is would the game continue to devolve into anarchy or would a hockey game break out?
Ruwe’s decision to boot both bench bosses turned out to be the appropriate message to both squads. The remaining 40 minutes of the Rivermen’s 6-3 victory over Macon had only 12 penalty minutes issued. After the Saturday night game in Birmingham and the public criticism which followed, Ruwe did what he had to do to regain order over a chaotic and emotional contest which could have escalated into a serious situation similar to what happened in Toledo recently in an ECHL game between the Toledo Walleye and Kansas City Mavericks.
If there is any critique to be given after the weekend, it’s the question of why Ruwe, a very competent official who could advance professionally if he so chooses, was put into the situation where he was officiating a game against his former team and coach in the first place. I’m sure Ruwe approached the game as he would any other, but the optics of such an assignment is problematic. Every call, non-call, and missed call has the potential to be overly scrutinized by both teams, fans, and outside observers.
In fairness, Ruwe also played 28 games for the Pensacola Ice Flyers at the end of his playing career, and the Pensacola-based referee has worked Ice Flyers games this season without incident. During Ruwe’s time in Pensacola, however, he played for Rod Aldoff, and the Ice Flyers are now coached by Jeff Bes. Last season, Ruwe worked as a linesman for at least four games involving Peoria – the three games the Rivermen played in Pensacola – with Aldoff as coach of the Ice Flyers – and Game two of the Presidents Cup Final in Macon. As none of these previous games garnered any controversy, I understand why the league would have no problem in allowing Ruwe to officiate the Rivermen games this weekend.
In the end, the weekend showed how a game can get out of control and how authority is quickly restored. While it’s likely impossible for the league to keep Ruwe and the Rivermen on separate paths – especially with the Rivermen yet to travel to Pensacola this season – it’s in the best interest of all parties involved for paths to cross as seldom as possible.