Nelson Leafs head coach Adam DiBella has resigned from the team and been suspended for the remainder of the season by the KIJHL for his role in a Dec. 31 line brawl.
The league announced the suspension Friday, as well as a $5,000 fine to the Leafs who have also been instructed to retrain all team staff in KIJHL standards of conduct.
KIJHL commissioner Jeff Dubois said he believes the suspension is the harshest handed out by the league in a decade. Video replay of the incident, he said, showed the line brawl against the visiting Beaver Valley Nitehawks at the beginning of the second period was premeditated by the Leafs.
“If you’ve been around the sport for any length of time, it’s pretty clear watching that it wasn’t a coincidence and it wasn’t a spur of the moment decision.”
DiBella told the Nelson Star he accepts the suspension.
“I am embarrassed of my actions that put the health and safety of 10 players at risk. As a coach I needed to be a leader and I led players into a situation that could have ended in disaster.”
The KIJHL handed out a total of 35 suspensions to the Leafs and Nitehawks for the incident, during which an entire line of Leafs instigated fights with the visitors after a puck drop in the second period.
Leafs players Tyler Seminoff, Leighton Partington, Hunter Sperle and Ryland Mennie were each suspended eight games, while Marko Pavlovic was also given three games. Nitehawks players Gavin Tritt, Boris Hristov, Spencer Dixon-Reusz and Kaleb Percival were also suspended two games each.
Leafs president Corey Viala said in a statement assistant coach Tyson Soobotin and general manager Lance Morey will lead the team on an interim basis until a new head coach has been hired. The team also apologized to Beaver Valley and fans for the incident.
“As a proud member of the KIJHL, the Nelson Leafs failed to abide by league principles to encourage participation in hockey in a manner so as to foster clean play and good sportsmanship,” said Viala, who added the team won’t appeal the suspensions.
“As an organization the Nelson Leafs intend to ensure that our club is seen as a healthy, competitive and respectable recreational activity for our players and fans and as a club that promotes hockey, education and life skills.”
Dubois said there was no consideration given to stripping the Leafs of their 3-1 win and two points. The integrity of the game, he said, was intact despite the line brawl, and Hockey Canada has no rules for forfeited wins due to in-game discipline.
If DiBella hadn’t resigned, he would have been persona non grata for the remainder of the season.
The suspension banned him from the bench for the remaining 15 regular season games on the Leafs’ schedule as well as any potential playoff games.
He’s also banned from travel with the team, being present in any KIJHL facility including the Nelson and District Community Complex for one hour before and after any Leafs game, and couldn’t take part in team practices. DiBella, who worked with Leafs general manager Lance Morey on roster management and recruitment, is also not to take part in any trades, meetings or recruitment.
Additionally, the league has stipulated DiBella must apply for reinstatement by Dubois in order to coach in the league again.
DiBella was in his rookie season as the Leafs’ head coach after replacing his father Mario DiBella, who retired after last season. He had previously served as an assistant coach since joining the team in 2018.
Dubois criticized the Leafs organization for what he said has been a series of disciplinary measures doled out to the team’s coaching staff over the last two years.
“What had been established was a pattern of behaviour that needs to come to an end in terms of members of the Nelson Leafs’ staff. I think the league has placed responsibility on the board of the hockey team to ensure that those types of incidents do come to an end.”