Justin McPolin of the Jacksonville Lizard Kings was suspended for 35 games Friday by the East Coast Hockey League for punching an official.
The league said McPolin, a left wing, used "excessive force towards an on-ice official in the face." in the Lizard Kings' game Nov. 20 against New Orleans.
"In my involvement in ice hockey and it's been at all levels, I haven't seen anything as bad and as flagrant as that," said New Orleans head coach Ted Sator. "It even shocked our fans."
Sator said the incident started when the on-ice officials tried to break up a fight involving McPolin.
"Not only did he manhandle the linesman, he attempted to head-butt him and then he punched him," Sator said.
Even Jacksonville general manager Shawn Hegan didn't defend his own player.
"If you saw the tape, it's very obvious. He lost it," Hegan said. "We're not going to argue at all what the league handed down on this one."
McPolin, who was assessed a game misconduct, was eventually escorted off the ice by his teammates, Sator said."
"One of our guys even asked the ref `If you need help, would you penalize me if I came over to calm down the situation,' because it was really ugly," Sator said. "The linesman got popped and he got popped good."
McPolin was recently acquired from the Columbus Chill of the ECHL. The six-foot-2, 220-pounder had 281 penalty minutes in 43 games at various levels last season.
He was acquired to add toughness, "the team's second biggest problem" after a league-worst offense, the Florida Times Union reported.
In 1996, as a member of the London Knights, McPolin was called the toughest player in the OHL by The Hockey News.
McPolin has already served three games of his suspension.
"The East Coast Hockey League absolutely does not condone or tolerate any player who use physical force towards an on-ice official and incidents of this nature will receive the strongest possible action from the league office," said Andy Van Hellemond, senior vice-president of hockey operations for the ECHL.
Meanwhile Jeff Kugel of the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires was told by the league that he is eligible to apply for reinstatement at the end of the season. He was appealing his lifetime suspension from the OHL for coming off the bench, sucker-punching an opponent and then challenging all comers Oct. 25.
"What I saw today for the first time was the acknowledgment that what he had done was certainly inappropriate," said OHL commissioner David Branch. "He expressed extreme remorse and was really pleading for another opportunity.
Branch did not give any guarantee that such an application would be viewed positively. He said Kugel will be asked to do community service work to demonstrate his remorse.
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