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Policy failure led to unsupervised hockey locker room

State and local hockey officials say a supervision policy was not followed when two teenage Mitchell players got in a "locker boxing" match that led to the hospitalization of a 15-year-old.

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State and local hockey officials say a supervision policy was not followed when two teenage Mitchell players got in a “locker boxing” match that led to the hospitalization of a 15-year-old.

The South Dakota Amateur Hockey Association follows the “Safe Sport Program,” a policy of which part states each team is to have a locker room monitor. If that person is not inside the locker room, they’re an arm’s length away from it, the policy says.

Dan French, of Rapid City, is the South Dakota Amateur Hockey Association league director. He is chairing the discipline committee to review the incident that occurred Friday, Dec. 21, at the Mitchell Activities Center, when a 17-year-old allegedly assaulted a 15-year-old and was taken into custody on Sunday.

“Coaches and parents like to think that kids are under control and know right from wrong,” French told The Daily Republic on Friday. “Unfortunately, sometimes things get out of hand, and this is a situation where things drastically got out of hand.”

A video of the incident shows two players fighting while wearing hockey helmets and gloves inside a locker room at the local ice arena. Other players are standing around, some cheering on the fight and others recording it with their cell phones.

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French, a former bantam and varsity hockey coach, and Mitchell Skating and Hockey Association President Brian Nash both referred to the association’s player code of conduct and other rules and policies in place to help avoid incidents such as this.

“We have everything in place. It’s all right there,” Nash said. “We know this is unacceptable behavior. We know there’s a cell phone policy that they’re not supposed to be in the locker room. We know there’s supposed to be a coach within an arm’s length of the locker room. That didn’t happen.”

French said there will be a SDAHA disciplinary committee hearing on the matter Thursday.

Based on the information that’s available now, the Mitchell Skating and Hockey Association issued a number of suspensions to players and coaches, including head coach Josh Engquist. French assured there would be more penalties to come from a state level.

Engquist, who has not returned messages left by The Daily Republic, received an eight-game suspension, receiving no pay, and he cannot contact players during that time. Three of the four team captains had their “letter” removed, and the team forfeited its appearance in a Hudson, Wisconsin, tournament in late January. Other suspensions were also issued.

Nash acknowledged Engquist was not at the arena during the incident, but two assistants -- who received four-game suspensions -- were in attendance but not in the locker room.

“The head coach was suspended due to the fact that he was the head coach, and it’s his responsibility to make sure that his assistants are following through with the policies and procedures that are set forth by our association, and he did not do that in this situation,” Nash said.

French said the matter was brought to SDAHA’s attention Saturday, the day after the incident. He said Mitchell Skating and Hockey Association has been fully cooperative during the investigation period.

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“This sport works very hard to make it safe for all its student-athletes, coaches, parents and referees,” French said. “Unfortunately, this is a situation that gives hockey a black eye.”

On Thursday, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said the city is working to amend its agreement with Mitchell Skating and Hockey Association because Mitchell Activities Center is a city-owned facility. Everson and the Mitchell City Council discussed the incident during an executive session earlier this week.

Nash said he will “take full responsibility for what happened” because he is the president of the association. When he saw the video of the incident he said he was “sickened” and “disappointed.”

“I don’t feel like it was ‘locker boxing,’” Nash said. “The only thing ‘locker boxing’ about it is kids had helmets and gloves on. This was a fight and completely unacceptable. Not that if it was ‘locker boxing’ that it’s ha-ha funny, or just joking around in the locker room, that that’s right. That shouldn’t be happening either.”

Related Topics: HOCKEY
Luke Hagen was promoted to editor of the Mitchell Republic in 2014. He has worked for the newspaper since 2008 and has covered sports, outdoors, education, features and breaking news. He can be reached at lhagen@mitchellrepublic.com.
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