Xpress GM Issues Apology After Police Called To Jamestown Arena

A referee and member of the PowerHawks coaching staff point fingers during Saturday night’s game at Northwest Arena. The Xpress defeated Niagara Falls 4-3. P-J photo by Chad Ecklof

The general manager for the Southern Tier Xpress hockey team apologized for the events that occurred Saturday at Northwest Arena causing police to be called to keep the peace between fans and members of the opposing team.

Travis Sanders’ apology came after three coaches and four players with the Niagara Falls PowerHawks were given game misconducts late in the third period. The Xpress went on to defeat the PowerHawks 4-3 following a late goal by Joey Gerace.

The game became chippy after Xpress defenseman Christian Juliana suffered a concussion after he was hit by Matthew Minichello of the PowerHawks. Juliana was carried off the ice on a stretcher and taken to UPMC Chautauqua WCA hospital for evaluation.

The team on Monday said Juliana was experiencing minor concussion symptoms and “looks forward to getting cleared medically in the near future.” The 17-year-old was currently in the concussion protocol, Sanders said.

Minichello was given a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct for the hit. While Juliana was being treated on the ice, Sanders said PowerHawks players waved their sticks to provoke fans while a coach on the team — later identified as Bret Gilmour — threw equipment onto the ice.

“I want to apologize to the community,” Sanders told The Post-Journal on Tuesday. “I want to make sure that people know this is not the norm. For as long as we’ve been here, this is not something that we condone by any stretch.”

In attempt to quell tensions in the stands and on the ice, Jamestown police were called to the arena. An officer Saturday night said everything had died down by the time police entered the stands with arena security. No arrests were made.

Sanders said he was pleased by the conduct of Xpress players during the game. He said he has received some “mixed reviews” by those who heard of the incident, and wanted to provide clarity as to what happened.

“I don’t want there to be a black eye based on what happened by a few people,” Sanders said, noting that at least one fan removed during the game will be prevented from attending other games in Jamestown. “This is a family-friendly place.”

Shortly before the hit on Juliana, the father of an Xpress player reportedly got into an argument with another fan. Security was quickly called and the incident was resolved. Sanders said he did not witness the argument, but was told it “lasted about two seconds.”

“With the players using their sticks to tap the glass near the fans, that’s being handled,” Sanders said. “There were some disrespectful things that went on while one of our players was done on the ice. There’s still a lot of etiquette in hockey.”

The general manager said he was disappointed in the opposing team’s behavior while Juliana was being treated by medical personnel. Nonetheless, he said he was proud of the way his players reacted, especially in the midst of a playoff push.

“We kept our composure,” Sanders said.

PowerHawks head coach Jason Hill on Tuesday apologized for Gilmour’s behavior during the game. He said he was very displeased with the officiating and that “emotions ran a little high” as a result.

“We do apologize” Hill said. “We’ve had a good relationship with Jamestown as we play a lot of games there. I know the staff there personally. It’s unfortunate that sometimes we say and do things when our feelings get the best of us.”

Hill said the referee failed to keep the game under control, and only started to issue game misconducts once fans began taunting his players. He also said the game was “one-sided” in terms of penalties being issued against the PowerHawks and not the Xpress.

“In my opinion, the ref let this thing get out of control,” he said. “It shouldn’t have happened. The ref has the authority to blow his whistle.”

The Xpress beat Niagara Falls 7-2 on Friday, which Sanders said may have contributed to events at Northwest Arena the following day. He said he believes the officiating crew did a good job, and pointed out it was a “hard-fought game until 3 1/2 minutes left when there was the fight in front of the net.”

The Xpress scored on the ensuing power play to take the lead.

The team plays its next four games on the road before it returns to Jamestown for a game March 11.

In related news, Juliana met with a fan Monday who sent him a get-well-soon card following his concussion. On its Facebook page, the team said the defenseman wanted to personally thank Camryn Olson, “who went above and beyond” in sending the card.

Juliana and other team members met with Olson to posed for a photograph. It was later posted on social media.