On Friday afternoon, the USPHL, a sprawling lower-level junior hockey league, sent out one of the coldest press releases you’ll ever see:
So, just to be clear: Wooster is getting axed from their league for this newest screw-up, not any of their other previous screw-ups.
What exactly happened that led to some hockey team you’ve never heard of being so unceremoniously axed?
The issue is thus: Last Friday, Wooster traveled to Toledo to take on the Toledo Cherokee. For whatever reason—the Oilers claim a spate of injuries—Wooster was only able to dress 10 players for the game. As you might expect, it was not a pretty game. Toledo was up 8-0 after two periods of play with shots on goal listed at 49-7. In the third period, the physicality started. There were matching 10-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalties handed out twice early in the period. Then, shortly after Toledo scored to make it 11-0 midway through the third period, another fight broke out with Wooster receiving two more 10-minute misconducts and a major penalty for excessive roughness. With half of their team in the penalty box and prospects of a comeback beginning to look slim, it was decided to call the game there.
(Sidenote: Disappointed to learn this game was not played at the famed Toledo Sports Arena, which Wikipedia tells me was demolished in 2007. TSA was renowned for hosting numerous boxing and wrestling events that sometimes featured some skating in the form of minor league hockey in between. This game would have fit there perfectly.)
The two teams were scheduled to play again the following evening, but unable to field a full team, Wooster instead opted to forfeit. After the forfeit, the USPHL apparently decided they had had enough and pulled the plug on Wooster’s entire team, placing whatever players that were on the team on waivers.
Wooster team owner Marty Kerr gives his side of the story here. They plan to fight the league’s decision and try to get the team re-instated.
It’s hard not to side with the USPHL on this one. While I’m sure the Wooster ownership group has their heart in the right place, scenes like whatever happened last weekend in Toledo exemplify some of the worst stereotypes about unsanctioned pay-to-play junior hockey. Watching an undermanned team get hamblasted and then starting fights isn’t hockey. It’s a joke, and nobody should be paying for it. If something like this wasn’t the first time the league has had issues with that franchise, as they imply in their release, that’s all the more reason to stop things immediately before someone ends up getting hurt.
Allowing something like that to continue would be poison to the USPHL’s reputation. The league is technically unsanctioned—they left USA Hockey in 2017 after their application for Tier II status was denied—so that reputation is especially important. Cutting a team just a few games into the season isn’t a great look, but allowing a franchise that can barely fill a roster to struggle along and create dangerous situations is worse.