Mason Wilgosh, the rookie UPEI Panthers men’s hockey forward, is a victim of circumstance and poor judgment on the part of Atlantic University Sport and its executive director Phil Currie. Wilgosh was handed a 12-game suspension this week for an incident Nov. 30 when he was called for a check to the head on Acadia Axemen defenceman Christopher Owens. Mr. Owens was taken to hospital and diagnosed with a concussion.
Mr. Wilgosh has the misfortune of being the guinea pig as the AUS applies a new set of guidelines recently adopted by the conference where the executive director reviews all hits to the head resulting in injury.
Mr. Wilgosh said he was speechless when informed this week about his suspension. And well he should be. Twelve games is an almost unheard suspension in the AUS. Keep in mind that the Atlantic conference plays a 28-game regular season. And keep in mind there are only 13 games left in the regular season.
To put this into perspective, it’s like giving a P.E.I. Rocket player, whose team plays a 72-game regular season, a 30 to 35-game suspension. And remember, the penalty was for an open ice body check. What has Mr. Currie so concerned is the alleged hit to the head, which is in some dispute.
“I remember putting my shoulder down and hitting him right in the chest area,” Mr. Wilgosh told The Guardian. “I know for a fact that I never hit him in the head.” A former AUS coach who saw the video said it appears Mr. Wilgosh caught the Axemen player cleanly and spun him around. The Acadia player fell backwards and hit his head hard on the ice.
And did Mr. Wilgosh, the suspect on trial here, get a chance to tell his story? No, he was not interviewed. Mr. Currie seems to have consulted everyone but the key party involved.
Mr. Currie added he was troubled by a pattern in Mr. Wilgosh’s on-ice behaviour. There was an incident in a pre-season game in late September where Mr. Wilgosh got a misconduct. “The thing I am concerned about, as an administrator, is pattern,” Mr. Currie said. “The two instances . . . were very similar and that’s very alarming to me.” Except for a few minor penalties between the Sept. 22 and Nov. 30 incidents, this was the first serious infraction since then. That is some pattern.
Mr. Wilgosh doesn’t consider himself a dirty player and his record and his conduct this season bears that out. He has five goals and five assists in 15 games this season with the Panthers, and had 14 penalty minutes prior to the Acadia game. In five seasons in the Western Hockey League, he averaged 23 penalty minutes a season. Where is the dangerous pattern?
Mr. Currie was in Charlottetown earlier this fall to announce a new vision for the AUS and its student athletes. What student athlete would want to come to the AUS when the rights of the student-athletes are downtrodden in such a cavalier fashion? What hockey player is going to come to the AUS when the precedent has been set for a suspension covering half the season for a body check?
This is a no-brainer for an appeal by UPEI where director of athletics Ron Annear says he is not in agreement with the ruling.
Mr. Wilgosh said he sent Mr. Owens a Facebook message following the hit, asking how he was and that he didn’t intend to injure him. “He actually replied, “Don’t worry about it, it’s part of the game, have a good break.’” Student-athletes are doing their part, it’s time for administrators to wake up and do theirs as well.