By John DeCoste
The Kings County Advertiser
UPEI hockey player Mason Wilgosh has been handed a 12-game suspension by Atlantic University Sport.
Wilgosh, a first-year forward from Winnipeg, was assessed a game misconduct and a match penalty for intent to injure following a blindside hit on Acadia defenceman Christopher Owens during a Nov. 30 game in Wolfville.
Owens suffered a concussion and briefly lost consciousness on the ice following the hit. He was removed from the ice surface on a spinal board and taken to hospital.
The all-star defenceman, a St. John’s, NL native, was released from hospital the following day.
Axemen head coach Darren Burns confirmed last week his situation was “day to day” in terms of when he might be able to return to the ice.
Owens, who was Acadia’s leading scorer at the time of the incident, has been unable to write his Christmas exams as scheduled due to the symptoms of his concussion. He is being permitted to defer writing the exams until next semester.
On Dec. 11, AUS executive director Phil Currie added an eight-game suspension to the automatic four-game ban Wilgosh received for the match penalty.
“We review each incident like this separately,” Currie stressed in a phone interview with The Advertiser. “With this one, we felt it was important to do a good, thorough investigation, and secondly, to do it right.”
After reviewing tape of the incident and “doing all our due diligence, we felt it was important for the conference to make a statement and send a message.“
Wilgosh, he confirmed, had previously been assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for a hit to the head in a game Sept. 22, which was taken into account as part of the review process.
Currie said the previous incident “was a similar sort of hit, and (generated) a similar kind of report from the official, which alarmed me. We felt a pattern was developing we weren’t comfortable with, especially for a first-year player.”
He pointed out the incident “was a scary hit” that had the potential to be worse than it was.
“We have a duty, especially in university sport, of protecting the student aspect of student-athletes. That’s a position we were public about taking, and we want to make sure of going forward.”
Currie said the suspension ”is about supplementary sanctions. It’s not up to me to challenge or change an on-ice call,” which he believes was the correct one.
Wilgosh sat out his team’s Dec. 1 game against Dalhousie. He will be ineligible to play any of UPEI’s exhibition games after the break, and will sit out the first 11 games of the Panthers’ second half schedule, returning Feb. 8 against St. Thomas.
Acadia head coach Darren Burns had previously termed the entire incident “very unfortunate” and had suggested he “wasn’t pleased with the entire game. It was an embarrassing game to be a part of. I heard afterward of fans who left the arena.”
Commenting on the suspension, Burns suggested Dec. 12 he felt AUS made the right decision.
“The way that game went, there’s absolutely no need for that kind of thing. The league had to do something to send a message,” he added.
“It’s really fortunate Chris wasn’t more seriously hurt. He’s still not 100 per cent physically, and he’s not able to write his exams, but at least he’s able to be up and moving around.”
He agreed with Currie, “it was a very scary situation.”
UPEI announced Friday it is appealing the 12-game suspension.