Coaching Respect


His coach was yelling at him to get off the ice but he shook his head and went down on one knee at the blue line. Some parents in the crowd were crying as they watched.”

-Tia Heslop

By Tyson Michie

If you don’t live in Vernon, BC, you’ve probably never cared about the annual Coca-Cola Classic International Pee Wee Tournament. If you keep up with hockey news in Canada, you’re likely learning about it today. For anyone who doesn’t know, 12 year old Matthew Marotta spent this past season playing for the Prince George Tier I Pee Wee Cougars, and made headlines at the end of the aforementioned tournament this past weekend. You can read about what happened on any number of websites, from Prince George local news to Yahoo! Sports, but I’ll give you the short version. It would seem that, the ‘C’ Final (played to determine 5th and 6th place) between Marotta’s Cougars and the Nanaimo Clippers Tier 1 Pee Wee team ended on a controversial goal. With 7.5 seconds remaining in the second overtime period, the Clippers won the faceoff, skated down the ice and scored…with 7.5 seconds still on the clock. No, there was no tear in the time space continuum at centre ice (or so government officials tell me), the timekeeper simply forgot to start the clock. After a long conference between referees and tournament officials, it was determined that, regardless of the clock not starting, there would have been enough time for the goal to have occurred if the clock had started. The goal was counted and the Nanaimo Clippers won the game 3-2.

That isn’t the story, though. The story is what happened next. The Prince George bench, particularly head coach Ryan Arnold took some exception to a goal counting when, by all technicality, play hadn’t actually started yet. Arnold and his team yelled and shouted their objections at the referees, to the point of one report calling it “berating”. Then, once the final decision was made and the Clippers officially named the winner, Arnold led his team off the ice. This in itself might not seem like much, until one remembers that we’re talking about not only a minor hockey game, but one that was a tournament final. In leading his team off the ice, Arnold made sure that all members of his team voiced his displeasure in the decision by refusing to shake hands with their opponent, or receive their tournament participant awards.

We couldn't find a picture of Matt Marotta
We couldn’t find a picture of Matt Marotta

All except one: #2 Matt Marotta

While Arnold and his assistant coaches, along with the rest of the team, were yelling for him to get off the ice and join them, 12 year old Marotta stayed on his respective blueline, kneeling and shaking his head no. This story isn’t to say anything about the officiating of the game or tournament, though I tend to agree with Coach Arnold that it shouldn’t have counted, and that face-off should have been replayed. Having been involved in many tournaments as a young lad, there is very little doubt in my mind the fact that the ‘B’ and ‘A’ finals were still to be played, and the game in question was already at the end of a second overtime period caused time to become the biggest factor, as minor hockey ice time is quite expensive. Be that as it may though, I wasn’t there, and have no idea either way. Maybe Nanaimo whipped down the ice in 4 seconds and scored. I’ve seen it happen, but I digress. This also isn’t to vilify Arnold as some sort of anti-sportsmanship demon. I don’t think his job matters in this case and if players can be forgiven for indiscretions in the heat of the moment, so to should coaches, so long as they are apologetic. For his part, Arnold has publicly recognized his actions:

I expect there to be consequences, and I don’t blame them (Prince George Minor Hockey Association) for suspending me,” he said. “Ultimately it’s a decision I made and I will wear it. I made a mistake. All I can do is own what happened, learn from it and move forward, and that’s what I’m prepared to do.”

(Hockey Coach Deserves Forgiveness:

No, this is to recognize young Matt Marotta for displaying the utmost in sportsmanship in the face of the worst opposition; his own team. In hockey, as with most team sports, to defy one’s coach is to invite hell into your sports world. One has to imagine this was likely one of the thoughts running through Marotta’s head as he knelt at the blueline. Would coach berate him when he got to the dressing room? Would his teammates hate him for going against them? Would this affect his chances of making the rep team next year?

This is what has people calling Matt courageous, and a man among boys. It’s hard to argue with those descriptions, or his actions being touted as “an amazing display of sportsmanship.” Assuming Marotta did have these thoughts, what he did took bravery well beyond his twelve years. Why would a young hockey payer publicly go against his coach, knowing full well his coach could make his hockey life a hell, potentially for years to come? According to Matt’s mother;

Matt’s reason to stay behind and shake hands was simply that it wasn’t Nanaimo’s fault the officials missed the fact the time clock hadn’t started when it should have.”

So simple, so reasonable.

Couldn't find a picture of Ryan Arnold either.
We couldn’t find one of Ryan Arnold either.

While Coach Ryan Arnold was attempting to punish the Vernon Minor Hockey Association, as well as the tournament and game officials, by making clear his disgust with their decision. Matt Marotta recognized that it wasn’t the tournament or game officials who were being punished by the childish walk-out, it was the 11 and 12 year olds standing on the other blueline. By walking out of the tournament, Arnold actually inadvertently helped the host association by cutting the awards ceremony time in half. As I stated before, many of these minor hockey tournament decisions come down to time before fairness. By rule, I believe the goal shouldn’t have counted, the faceoff replayed, and Nanaimo left unhappy (should Prince George have come back to win). The officials decided otherwise, though, and that’s the way sports goes. A good sportsman knows sports aren’t always fair. Any good sportsman knows what that coach did was simply make the whole game about himself.

What Marotta did was exemplify what all sport is about: Respect. He respected the officials enough to accept their decision. He respected his opponent enough to stay for the post-game awards ceremony and congratulate them on a game well played. He respected himself enough to stand up against his friends, teammates, and coaches for what he believed. He respected those teammates and coaches enough to teach them something. Sports are about respect.

I will take a second to say shame on some people. Shame on anyone who has read this story and commented on various news sites in regards to it, saying that Arnold should be banned from hockey for life, or that not enough is being done. The fact is Arnold has made one mistake in his 8 years of coaching minor hockey, albeit a big one. Keeping in mind that we’re talking about refusing a handshake and not molestation of a player, does an otherwise good coach deserve banishment for one incident? I think not. And shame on those of you reading partial stories and casting judgment. In the comments of one of those stories I linked, a commenter derides Arnold for the story stating “Arnold refused comment stating he was reluctant to speak at this point.” I would like to remind anyone of the same mind that he has made public quotes, and a quick Google search will help you find them (also, articles I’ve linked to in this very story). The sad part about these commenters is most of them go on to talk about how Arnold, as well as PGMHA, has taken away from Marotta’s wonderful display of sportsmanship. To that I say, what the hell do you think you’re doing with these comments? And how do those kids from Nanaimo feel?

Instead of focusing on the wrongdoings of a man who knows and accepts that he’s done wrong, or people who have read half a story, passed judgment, and likely won’t read this, I would like to focus on some congratulations. Congratulations to Coach Ryan Arnold. As a former Pee Wee coach myself, I can only imagine the feeling of pride having coached a young man like Marotta, even in a moment of embarrassment and shame as this. He must have done something right. And congratulations to Matt’s parents who have quite obviously raised quite a fine young son. As well, congratulations to the Prince George Minor Hockey Association, who have suspended Arnold pending further investigation. Another congratulations to Arnold for taking that standing up, and accepting his punishment.

Above all, though, congratulations to Matthew Marotta for his example of sportsmanship and lesson on what sports mean. If you have kids, make sure they read his story and learn from it. Maybe, eventually, when those kids are coaches, kids like Matt won’t be forced into situations like this by poorly made decisions.

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