Respect Trumps Violence in Hockey

Updated: February 1, 2013

The last few days have seen controversy swirl around Todd Gillingham and an incident surrounding a game in the Avalon East Senior Hockey League.

After an incident involving one of his players that saw a young man have his “face torn off” (literally), Gillingham became vocal and spoke his mind to the officials and to the coach of the other team.  It is what anyone would do in the same situation.  The reaction from the other team was anything but classy.  The taunted Gillingham, made references to his battle with alcohol and personal issues.

For those who know Gillingham, he was a gritty player.  He mixed it up with the best of them.  He was tough on the ice and that attitude carried over off the ice at times.  He’s never denied his personal struggles and in fact, drew upon those to become the person he is today.  He made a life after hockey and is to be admired for the things he did to put his life back together.

Todd has been a staunch supporter for the Newfoundland hockey scene.  He has been involved as a player, a coach and as a parent.  He has advocated cleaning up the game and making it fun because as he said himself … at the end of the day, hockey is just a game.  It can give you enjoyment, build confidence and act as a stepping stone into accomplishing great things in life.

Through it all, there is one thing that Todd has always done … he has told it exactly as it was.  He never held punches and he never fabricated any story to draw attention to himself.  For those who have questioned his intentions during this latest controversy or to question the validity of what he’s saying – they have no idea of who this individual is or what he has sacrificed for the game.

Some will question my motives for saying these things and for taking Todd’s side because he and I are regular guests on CBC discussing the game of hockey.  We have both been openly critical of Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL) and the Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League (NLSHL).  However, I’ve also said that I was never a true fan of Todd when he was a player here in Corner Brook with the Royals.  I understood the role he was playing on the ice and saw how some of his personal battles carried over into the game and into the dressing room.

The difference being is that I’m man enough to recognize that I was wrong and now what this individual was going through in his life adjusting to life after a pro hockey career.  I’ve gotten to know Todd and we have had some great debates around the game.  We don’t always agree on things and have differing opinions on where things should go to make hockey survive here in our province.

Todd did the right thing in raising his concerns about what happened through his blog and through the media.  Those involved with the game, whether it is the players, coaches, executives or parents, they have to recognize the game has changed dramatically.  There is not place for unnecessary violence.  There is no place for goon tactics.  There is no place for dragging individual’s personal lives into question.

Yes, violence puts arses in the seats.  It’s something that I’ve said many times myself because I was a fan of the hard-hitting style of game that I grew up with.  I loved to see a good fight, loved to see things get physical and loved watching the banging on the boards.  That’s a part of hockey history that has grown into the game and regardless of whether you agree with the “violence” side of hockey, it is still a physical sport.

There is a difference however in the physical side we can enjoy and the dark side of hockey that has reared its head through this latest incident.  There is no place for such behaviour.  Respect has to come before violence, both on and off the ice.

I want to extend an apology to “Gilly” and send a heartfelt thank you for what he’s done for the game.  Keep your chin up and remember, there will always be those who want to make themselves feel better by bashing others.  You are a true gentleman and are to be commended in how you handled this.  Hockey in Newfoundland and Labrador is better because of what you have done.

Barry Wheeler is the owner and operator of Newfoundland Hockey Talk.  He is s regular guest on CBC discussing senior hockey and is a diehard Bruins fan.  He can be found talking hockey on his discussion forum at

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