AMHERST - The Maritime Junior A Hockey League has issued a stiff suspension to Yarmouth Mariners defenceman Dakota Johnson.
The 18-year-old from Iona, Victoria Co., will sit 20 games for punching Amherst Ramblers forward Scott Bragg during a Sept. 24 game in Yarmouth. Johnson had been suspended indefinitely pending a league review, and has served five games while waiting for league president Derryl Smith to render his decision.
"The due diligence was done with a referee's report, video evidence and an interview with (Johnson) and (Yarmouth's) general manager, and the decision is in the best interests of the league," Smith said. "A statement had to be made that incidents like this will not be tolerated."
The incident occurred at 9:44 of the second period in a 6-3 Ramblers victory, in which Bragg was assessed a spearing major and game misconduct on the same sequence. Johnson responded to Bragg's spear of another Yarmouth player with what referee Jason Blanchard ruled was a high stick, but was deemed a punch upon video review.
Bragg has served his two-game suspension for the spear, and will be sidelined for at least a month following surgery to repair a broken jaw.
"(Bragg's spear) didn't qualify (Johnson) to do what he did," Smith said. "(Bragg) was not a willing participant in the exchange, and even if he was, it doesn't justify what happened."
Smith said he based his decision on precedents set by other leagues, citing a similar incident earlier this season in Alberta, and one late last season in the Ontario Hockey League.
"(Johnson) is not a bad person," said Smith. "He just made a bad choice."
Ramblers head coach and general manager Corey Crocker said he respected the league's decision.
"There's no place in the game for what happened," Crocker said.
"We all have to be responsible for our actions, and it's good to see the league making an effort to get rid of the foolishness."
Johnson will be eligible to return Dec. 4. The Mariners and Ramblers do not meet in the regular season after Nov. 29. Yarmouth has 24 hours to launch an appeal, which would cost $500.
NOTES - Crocker said he was "95 per cent sure" forward Simon Bissonnette would be back in the lineup for the Ramblers next game, Friday at home to the Summerside Western Capitals. Bissonnette did not play in Sunday's 5-0 loss to the Woodstock Slammers because of injury ... The Ramblers have fallen out of the Candian Junior Hockey League's top-15 rankings. The Truro Bearcats have replaced Amherst at No. 12 in the latest poll, announced Monday.