17-year-old hockey player charged in alleged on-ice assault in Woodstock, Ont.

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WOODSTOCK, Ont. — A 17-year-old hockey player has been charged with assault causing bodily harm in connection with an on-ice incident during a game earlier this year in Woodstock, Ont., police said Wednesday.

Police say they received a criminal complaint on Jan. 14 alleging that a player was assaulted by another player during a hockey game in the city the previous day.

Video of the game was reviewed and witnesses interviewed, and police say the Crown attorney’s office was also consulted about whether charges could be laid “in the forum of a hockey game.”

“We are very well aware the subject of this investigation has garnered intense public attention across Canada and we respect there are passionate opinions on both sides of the physical aspect of hockey,” said Woodstock police Chief Rod Freeman. “The decision to lay a criminal charge was not taken lightly and was based on an objective review of the evidence, including video evidence, and on factually based legal opinions from the Crown attorney’s office.”

The onus is on minor hockey leagues to educate their coaches and players, said Tony Martindale, executive director of Minor Hockey Alliance of Ontario. “Our preference is that police do not get involved in these types of matters, and if we need to change how we do business so that they aren’t, then that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

However, he said it was not clear what discipline the parents were hoping for short of a criminal charge. The parents of the player who was allegedly beaten have said they were expecting a longer suspension for the other player. The player received a four game suspension for the assault.

Shortly afterward, he was involved in another fight - his third of the season - and received an indefinite suspension until a hearing, following discipline guidelines set by Hockey Canada. The ruling was later overturned during the player’s hearing, and he received a total suspension of seven games.

Martindale said the number of fights in minor hockey league has decreased in recent years.

This is not the first time an Ontario hockey player has been criminally charged with assault, said Kevin Wamsley, an expert on violence and sports at Western University.

In 2007, a 22-year-old woman was charged after kicking another player in the head with her skate. But high-profile fights and injuries in hockey means charges will be laid more often, he says.

“It’s been a culture that’s resisted any kind of a softening of it’s stance on violence, but lately I think the message has been starting to sink in.”

The 17-year-old who is charged cannot be identified under provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. He’s to appear in court in Woodstock on July 11.

Organizations: Minor Hockey Alliance of Ontario, Western University

Geographic location: Woodstock, Canada, Ontario

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