Buck Carragher had a reputation of being a fair and honest game official which is what you would expect from any referee
On ice officials in hockey have been abused almost forever but what happened on February 24, 1996 at the Sherwood Sportsplex will go down as a huge black eye that hit the national headlines.
A delayed call on a game winning goal that ended one team’s season and extended the other, led to the referee in the game being swarmed by a group of angry players near the boards and before several hundred fans who saw the ref being punched and hit with hockey sticks.
The Moncton Blue Eagles and UPEI Panthers were playing in the second game of their best of three MacAdam Division final in the AUAA playoffs. UPEI led series, 1-0 against the defending CIAU national champs and long-time archrivals. The Sportsplex had to be utilized for the second game with the Panthers regular home ice at the Civic Centre not available due to a farm show. The Sportsplex was a much smaller rink with fans jammed into the stands with close proximity to the playing surface and benches. Some 2,000 spectators witnessed the game in the tiny confines of what was the home of the Sherwood-Parkdale Metro Juniors and they were loud in an arena that had a reputation of not being the easiest place to play for the visiting team.
Brian “Buck” Carragher, a fifteen year vet in pin stripes was the referee for the game along with linesmen Kevin Cooper and Glen Gaudet. All three of the officials were from the Island and members of the PEI Hockey Association and sanctioned through the AUAA. Carragher was the brother of Ron Carragher, a member of the Panthers a decade before. The game was a tight one and went into overtime, tied 2-2.
The extra period was a thriller and went down to the final few seconds when UPEI forward Tyler Ertel fired a high, hard wrist shot over the left shoulder of Moncton goaltender Pierre Gagnon that went under the crossbar, in and out. Play went on momentarily with 31.6 seconds left on the clock when the game was finally halted after Carragher blew his whistle. Only it was not officially over yet. The Blue Eagles players and those on the bench were yelling and screaming it was no goal. The goal judge Alan “Hoagie” Carmichael initially did not put the red light on signaling the goal had been scored. The light did go on and Carragher consulted his linesmen, Cooper and Gaudet and the goal judge before motioning the Panthers had scored and won the game, 3-2. UPEI celebrated. The Blue Eagles went wild with their season ended and their hopes of a repeat conference and national championship quashed. The players from both sides were on the ice. The only exit was on the south side of the rink beside the Moncton goal and no one was leaving. Seven or eight Blue Eagles players went after Carragher and pinned him against boards on the far side of the rink away from the benches. The referee was helpless as he was swarmed by the Moncton players and punched and speared in the groin twice during the assault. Gagnon, who looked helpless on the winning goal, put his arm around Carragher and witnesses say he hollered, “You blew it – you choked.”As the players took their turns with swings at the game official, Moncton assistant coach Patrick Daviault, who wandered on the ice, pulled a metal net mooring out of the ice and threw it shattering a pane of Plexiglas around the boards. Two on duty Charlottetown Police officers were joined by 10-15 off duty officers and UPEI campus intervened and restored order but it took 20 minutes. Gaudet and Cooper did their best to separate the Moncton players from Carragher.
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THE SWARMING OF BUCK CARRAGHER
The referee was sore but not seriously injured but he was shaken and did not comment after the incident. It could have been a lot worse.
Gordie “Doc” Lund, the Executive Director of the PEIHA later stated, “This was the most deplorable act of cowardice and unsportsmanship by a hockey team I have ever seen.”
UPEI Athletic Director and President of the AUAA, Barb Mullaly said there was a possibility of criminal action laid against the Blue Eagles. She would not become involved in any disciplinary action, however. That would be left up to Don Wells of Acadia University, the sport’s chair for hockey.
“If criminal activities were committed, we will pursue,” said Charlottetown Police Constable Richard Collins. “We have entered into a criminal investigation over the incident.”
Police charges of assault and damage to property (the pane of Plexiglas) were dropped after being laid.
The swarming became national news on TV, radio and in newspapers. Nothing like this had occurred in the past, especially at the university level. Dean Brown, play-by-play man for the Ottawa Senators had CHTN’s Dave Holland on the pre-game show just days later and like most hockey fans wondered how this could happen in Canada.
The University of Moncton’s men’s hockey program was put on hold and there was lots of speculation it would face a year’s ban and the players involved would be banned for life.
Moncton head coach Pete Belliveau was apologetic. “If I had an explanation for what happened, I would have prevented it,” he related after the incident, “We can say were were frustrated with the decisions of the officials all evening, but this is not an excuse.” Apologies were issued by the University of Moncton action was taken against the Blue Eagles. Daviault was fired as assistant coach for his part in the post-game melee. Four players from Moncton were suspended.Mathieu Bibeau, Sylvain Ducharme, Gagnon, and Frantz Bergevin-Jean were suspended from all sporting activities at U de M.
The AUAA came down even harder.
Bergevin-Jean, Bibeau and Ducharme were all given five year suspensions. Gagnon received a two year ban. Phillipe Lavoie was given a year but that would be overturned on further review. Jean Imbeau was given a three game suspension for throwing a stool on the ice.
On appeal Bibeau and Ducharme received three years suspension but reduced to two years with 400 hours of community service. Bergevin-Jean had his suspension reduced to two years or one year with 200 hours of community service. Lavoie’s one year ban was overturned as he played a role in trying to take away the stick in goalie Gagnon’s hand as the swarming began.
Moncton’s hockey program was reinstated in April, two months after the incident as hockey great and lawyer Ken Dryden was brought in to review what happened. U de M President Jean-Bernard Robichaud was informed of the decision and reduction in penalties.
UPEI, under new head coach Doug Currie, who had taken over from Bill MacMillan, guided the team to the conference final after finishing fourth with players like Captain K.J. White, Forbie MacPherson (who later became the Panthers head coach), and John Nelson. MacPherson led the Panthers in scoring and was the team MVP. The Panthers faced Acadia in the final and split the first two games of the Best of Three. Nelson scored two goals in the last two minutes to push the deciding game to overtime. The Axemen won in the extra period putting a shot past UPEI goalie Craig Johnson and clinched the AUAA title and trip to the Nationals.
Tyler Ertel, who scored the upset winner against Moncton that began the referee swarming, turned 45 in 2016. He played a year in the pro ranks in the AHL and ECHL. He played for Kitchener, North Bay and Windsor in the OHL before coming to UPEI.
Pierre Gagnon went on to play minor pro and in Quebec in senior hockey. He tended the nets for the Macon Whoopees, Tuscon and Shreveport in a brief career in the minors.
Carragher was the victim in this sad saga. He had a reputation as one of the best referees on the Island and the Maritimes. He did everything right as far as the overtime goal was concerned as he consulted with his linesmen and the goal judge. And he was correct on the call.
Video replay proved the puck was in the net and over the goal line.
Brian Carragher was a PEIHA referee & linesman for over 15 years