CENTERVILLE, Mass. — The ECAC is investigating Saturday night’s fighting incident between Union’s Bryant Westerman and Vermont’s Chris Hills. League officials have spoken with the athletic directors of the two schools over the past two days.
Westerman was given two game disqualifications for attacking Hills during Vermont’s win Saturday. Both players were given fighting majors as a result of the melee, during which Westerman pummelled Hills even well after the referees tried to break things up.
ECAC hockey commissioner Steve Hagwell said he had a discussion today with Union AD Val Belmonte, and is waiting to hear back from him regarding what actions Belmonte may take internally.
“We’re not going to step on their toes,” said Hagwell. “Will [what Union does] play a role in what we do? Certainly. In my conversations, we left it that we would get back to each other. [Belmonte] needs to have a chat with his coach and player.”
Also at issue are post-game comments made by Union coach Kevin Sneddon, who defended Westerman and said that his actions were in retaliation for a number of flagrant hits by Hills on Union players.
“He did the right thing,” Sneddon said after the game, which was televised as part of the ECAC Game of the Week package. “I’m not going to get mad at him for it. He’s a tough kid. When our guys are taken advantage of, guys should stick up for each other. We all felt that [Hills] was taking advantage of our guys. He had three pretty dangerous hits. To Westy’s credit, he’d seen enough.”
Hagwell said those comments were brought to his attention, and he spoke to Sneddon about them.
“He did not refute that he made those comments,” Hagwell said. “He explained to me the context that it was in, and the mindset he had at the time.”
Sneddon, who is known to be quite open with the media, defended his comments in Ken Schott’s article Wednesday in the Schenectady (N.Y.) Gazette.
“I’m not going to fault our kids for sticking up for each other,” he said to the Gazette. “At the same time, I’m not condoning that there’s a place in college hockey for fighting. I’m not extremely happy that on the ECAC game of the week that [the fight] is a reflection of our program. But, at the same time, our guys stuck up for each other. It’s one of the first times we stuck up for each other all season.
“I called Steve earlier in the week to say I should have said, ‘No comment’. But in the heat of the battle right after the game, when you ask those kind of questions, I’m going to try to be truthful.”
Having the game televised may not be a good reflection on Union, but it makes the facts easier to evaluate.
“[Vermont AD] Rick Farnham [called] to touch base,” Hagwell said. “They had a tape, they saw that Union’s player was the aggressor. I think that’s clear to anyone watching the tape.”
Said Sneddon, “Hills’ hits are also being reviewed by Hagwell to see if any of them are illegal.”
Hagwell said the ECAC could decide to impose further discipline on Westerman, who already received a three-game suspension as a result of the penalties incurred during the game. Sneddon, too, could be disciplined for his comments. For now, however, the league will await Union’s internal reaction.